The Fifth Sunday in Lent,
Commonly Called Passion Sunday
The Epistle. Hebrews 9:11-15
The Gospel. St. John 8:46-59
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
As mentioned last week in describing the Lenten season, the point was made that there is a real pattern in the way Lent is designed. There is a true trajectory that we are to see.
And if we are able to see it, we can much better reap the benefits of what the season means, how we are living in it, and how we can more fully benefit from all it has to offer.
Again, the trajectory is from Trinity Season, down into the sin contemplation beginning on Ash Wednesday.
Then from there we have 3 weeks until there is some relief.
Now, as we approach Holy Week in a few weeks, we are given today something else to think about, which can serve to lift us also from our misery and into a better place where we might draw more refreshment.
Today, in the Epistle to the Hebrews we are reminded of the central work that Jesus came to do. We are reminded of His office as Priest in this passage today.
We are further reminded of how the Old Testament sacrificial system worked and how it was limited compared to the fully effective work of Christ and His sacrifice.
To accomplish this we must recall some of the Old Testament facts.
We must recall
the early worship of the Israelites.
We must recall that they too had the problem of sin. The universal problem of sin.
And they had the problem or the concern of dealing with it as we do today.
Today’s passage begins at verse 11. If we even go back to just verses 1-10 we get some semblance of a picture of what the writer is describing about the Old Testament, Old Covenant Temple/Tabernacle worship was about.
He writes this. “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. A tent was prepared.”
So he begins to describe for us the structure where they worshiped.
A tent was prepared. It was divided into sections. In the first section there was not only an elaborate lampstand, but also a table with bread on it…called the Bread of the Presence.
This section of the Tabernacle where they worshiped was called the Holy Place.
Behind a curtain which divided this Holy Place was another room we could say, and that was called the Most Holy Place.
Inside the Most Holy Place there was a golden altar to burn incense on. Also there was the Ark of the Covenant.
We all know what the Ark looked like for the most part. It was a box essentially which was covered on all sides with sheets of gold.
Inside of the Ark of the Covenant were two tables or two copies of the 10 Commandment stone tablets.
Also an urn which held some of the manna…the bread that God rained down for the people to eat in the desert.
Also Aaron’s staff was in there. Aaron was Moses’ elder brother. Aaron’s staff budded miraculously through the power of God.
Though it was a dead stick of wood, Aaron threw it down on the ground and it became a serpent. This was done in the presence of Pharaoh to convince Him of the power of God….which power Pharaoh did not care to be impressed with.
The Staff of Aaron also budded and ripe almonds appeared on the Staff by the power of God. This signified that Aaron's priesthood was the only true and legitimate priesthood.
None of the other staffs of the other tribes sprouted and bloomed…only Aaron’s
So these items were placed into the Ark.
On the lid of the Ark were essentially two cherubim with their wings spread to cover or overshadow the lid of the Ark.
After all of these things were constructed and in place, priests would go in regularly into the first section of the Tabernacle and perform their ritual duties.
These duties included lighting of the lamps, offering of the loaves of bread, offering of incense.
Here is a recounting from the Book of Leviticus of the priest’s duties, “(1) He enters the holy place with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, and takes from the people two goats and a ram (16:3–5).
(2) He offers the bull as a sin offering for himself, then casts lots over the two goats, and sacrifices as a sin offering the one selected for the Lord (16:6–10).
(3) The high priest then presents the bull as a sin offering for himself and his house, sprinkling the blood of the bull on the mercy seat (16:11–14). This is the top or the lid of the Ark where God is said to sit.
(4) He does the same with the blood of the goat (16:15–17).
(5) He next takes some of the blood of the bull and the goat and smears it on the horns of the altar—outside the holy of holies—sprinkling more blood on it (16:18–19).
(6) Then the other goat has the sins of Israel pronounced over it and is sent bearing those sins into the wilderness (16:20–22). The Scapegoat.
(7) Finally, the high priest washes his clothes and offers his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people (16:23–28).
So here are the functions of the priest including the work done in the Most Holy Place.
In there, again, he would burn incense and sprinkle the top of the Ark of the Covenant with the blood of a sacrificed animal. Before the High Priest would even enter the Most Holy Place, he had to ceremoniously wash himself, put on special clothing and bring the incense and the blood in with him.
No one entered this room except the High Priest and he only once a year on the Day of Atonement…we call it now Yom Kippur.
A heavy curtain that divided these two rooms was hung to keep the glory of God inside and prying human eyes out.
All of this had meaning. It was not all built to look interesting or beautiful.
The writer tells us here in verse 8 that the Holy Spirit tells us or indicates to us that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing…which is symbolic for the present age.
He goes on. “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
So, in other words this whole system was limited in what it could accomplish.
People would bring in their animals and have the priest offer it to God to cover the sins of the person bringing the animal and the entire time, a real forgiveness of sins was not really happening.
God set up this system, so He in one sense accepted those offerings as atonement, but this atonement was incomplete and insufficient to truly cover the sins of the people.
Nevertheless, they would have to continue this ritual as long as God commanded it and until something better came along.
This is how we can now understand today’s reading.
He picks up immediately by saying this.
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)  he [Christ] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
There is the work of Christ. It is hinted at in the Old Testament, Old Covenant with that Tabernacle and the curtain and the blood of animals and the sacrifices and the covering of sins…
All of that did not do perfectly what it was to do. It sufficed for the moment, but it had to end.
And it ended the day Christ shed His blood on the Cross.
The writer today goes on, referencing back one more time so we are clear.
He says, “ For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh…”
So the blood of bulls and goats served its purpose. It was to sanctify the people. It was for their purification.
But, he says….all of that was fine for the times…but “ how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Not only is Christ’s death and atonement and blood shedding replacing that old way….it was better. It was more. It accomplished so much more.
Christ offered Himself as the bull or the goat or the lamb. He was the animal offered….but not on some altar in a tent somewhere, but on the Altar of the Cross.
So not only was He acting as the priest in making an offering to God…He was the Offering as well!!!
The writer to the Hebrews again says that Christ’s work of dying on the Cross “purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
So Christ’s death does something here that we should note.
The Tabernacle and Temple sacrifices were essentially dead works. They only pointed to the final and perfect work of Christ and His sacrifice.
And at the same time, Christ’s work on the Cross, purifies our conscience from dead works to serve the living God…. in that all of the things people do outside of Christ are dead works.
Those who are outside of Christ or not Christians are performing works that are dead. They may accomplish some small amount of temporal good, but if they are not done through the sanctifying power of Christ, they accomplish nothing in the eyes of God.
In Christ we are justified and declared righteous. This makes the works we do alive…not dead.
Let’s look again at one of our own Anglican Articles of Religion. Number 13. This one is titled, OF WORKS BEFORE JUSTIFICATION.
Works before Justification meaning dead works. Listen to how this reads.
“Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ…yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”
A bit thick in the language but clear nonetheless. Before Christ takes a hold of us, the things we do toward one another and seemingly for God are not pleasing to Him.
This should be sobering for us and for anyone who hears it who does not accept Christ by faith.
What we do is not acceptable to God. They may be good in an earthly sense and they may match the same work done in Christ, but Christ is the missing element from those outside of Him…therefore rendering void the work done.
So this message today is in fact one of great refreshment.
The final words today are these. “ Therefore he [Christ] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” (ESV)
So his conclusion is this: There is no more need for a Tabernacle or a Temple. The Temple is NOT to be rebuilt, as some wish it to be even today.
To do so would trample under foot the work of Christ on the Cross…who did away with the Tabernacle and Temple and the inferior works done in them.
Jesus Christ fulfills the office of priest Himself. This is the New Covenant…a Covenant in His Blood.
It is a new and final sacrifice. Listen to the words during the Consecration Prayer coming up.
Jesus…who made there…on the Cross by His one oblation of Himself once offered [never to be offered again]…a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.
Christ is the mediator.
Christ is the Priest.
Christ is the Offering.
Christ is the Tabernacle.
Christ is the Temple.
All of those things listed and all of the works going on in the Tabernacle were all pointing forward to that one Sacrifice on the Cross by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.
His death even paid for those who sacrificed under the old system. The sins of the whole world…whose sins could not have been blotted out by animal’s blood.
Only Christ's Blood can do such a work. And even when sins were forgiven in that old system of the Tabernacle and Temple they were forgiven on account of the Christ who was to come.
What a message this Letter to the Hebrews would be to those Jews reading it or hearing it read to them for the first time.
All of what was going on down the street is over. Its done.
Christ has come and there is no need to look to the Temple anymore. Christ is now the Temple. Not made with hands.
Not of this creation…but of a heavenly creation.
All of this was necessary because the copies, the imperfect things had to pass away.
Christ now sits at the right hand of God the Father. He has entered into the Holy Place and has sat down on His throne…still working for us.
Even now, He is said to be still doing the work of Priest on our account. Appearing in the presence of God on our behalf.
And jumping to the end of the chapter, He will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.