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Jun 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

June 28, 2020


Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. Hebrews 8:1-2

Intro: When my older sister, my brother and I were small children,

We would sometimes “play church”
– it was an easy game, because the basics were simple:
• prayer, song, scripture, and sermon
• for us, it was much like the real thing–only more fun
– in every formal Sunday morning Christian gathering,
• a certain percentage of what we do is playing church
◦ we act out a drama with physical elements and props,
◦ those things symbolize our spiritual engagement with God
• this is the nature of rituals; it’s how they work
◦ but the “play”part can also be misleading
◦ we can assume the play we enact is all there is

The writer of Hebrews is going to argue a crucial difference
– the difference between copy and original, between shadow and substance

The Book of Hebrews has been building up to this point
Now the point in what we are saying is this:

He began this book with an opening statement regarding Jesus
– that God has spoken through him, that he is the exact representation of God, and that after making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:1-3; notice the similar expression here in ch. 8 regarding Jesus being seated at the right hand . . . of the Majesty in heaven)
• in chapter 5, he started to present his case for Jesus as our high priest
◦ at the end of chapter 7, he wrote that it is fitting for us to have such a high priest as he described (who shares our weaknesses and temptations but not our sin, who is holy, innocent, unstained, and so on)
◦ now he says, we have such a high priest
Luke T. Johnson, “Jesus has all the qualities identified in 7:26-27, and ‘we have’ Jesus!”
– “we have” are powerful words when we put them together
• thousands of ads and commercials every day remind us of what we don’t have
◦ the market for products is driven by fear and discontent
• but in Jesus, all that we do have is infinite
◦ Jesus fits our most serious and significant needs perfectly

So, we are told, this sums up what we have learned so far
– now to the point – verse 2, Jesus, our high priest is a minister
• that is, someone who performs a service for others
holy places refer to God’s sanctuary (sanctuary as sanctified or holy place)
◦ the tent, in this context, is God’s sacred dwelling in the wilderness
• strangely, the writer refers to it as the “true” tent,
◦ why does he say this? What does it mean?
– true translates the Greek alethines – genuine, authentic, the real deal
• it’s used this way several times in John’s gospel
◦ Jesus is the true light (Jn. 1:9), the true bread (6:32), true vine (15:1)
◦ light, bread, a vine, a tent are assigned the role of analogies
• the true tent is one that God pitched, not the one Moses made
◦ God’s true dwelling transcends the material realm of our earth
◦ this is a mystery that requires (much) more explanation

What ministries does a high priest perform?
For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. Hebrews 8:3-4

The high priest was appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices
– so Jesus also must have something to offer
• but it seems like the writer doesn’t complete his thought
◦ we expect him to tell us what Jesus offers
• he doesn’t
◦ he lets that point slip for now, perhaps because:
1. he already told us in 7:27, Jesus offered up himself
2. he intends to elaborate more on Jesus’ offering later on
3. it is not the point he is eager to make here
if he were on earth – this phrase gives us the perspective we need
• the ministry that Jesus performs now is not here on earth
◦ if he were here now, he would not be a priest at all
◦ those gifts and sacrifices were already being handled by earthly priests
(in an earthly sanctuary)
according to the law — again, this is a difference between Levitical priests and Jesus
◦ it is the difference between the weakness of law and the vitality of life (Heb. 7:16)

Here is a clue to what the writer meant by the “true” tent
They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” Hebrews 8:5

The ministries of the priests a copy and shadow of the heavenly things

Mostly, our writer works with the basics of the Old Testament archetypes. In other words, he does not seem to be concerned that the sacred tent later became a temple, or that the duties of the priest evolved over time–as when King David added music and song to the regular liturgy. The focus of Hebrews is on the original plans for the sacred tent and the services of the priests as God delivered them to Moses (especially in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers).

– Moses’ specific instructions were,
. . . let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and all of its furniture, so you shall make it (Ex. 25:8-9)
• in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “pattern” is paradeigma
◦ this is the root of our English word, paradigm
◦ it is pattern or model (in psychology, a mental model or “construct”)
• there is a phrase in Exodus 39-40 that repeats so many times you can’t miss it:
as the LORD had commanded Moses (at least eighteen times!)
◦ the reason for this attention to precise detail,
◦ is because the sacred tent was to parallel or reflect a heavenly reality
• what Moses was given was not a vision of God’s true dwelling,
◦ but a pattern or blue print from which Moses was to make a “copy”

The writer reminds us that Moses received the design on the mountain
– that was itself a place of divine encounter
• God’s presence there was manifested by his glory in the cloud
• at end of Exodus, when the sacred tent had been set up,
◦ the cloud left the summit of Mount Sinai
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34-35)
– the tent became God’s earthly dwelling place
• in it, there was a real merging of the reality with the model
◦ the model did not become the heavenly reality
◦ it still belonged to our material world, but was made holy
• God’s glory was truly present in the most holy place of the tent
• but the model was still only a symbol of the true, the heavenly real
◦ it was no more an accurate of the heavenly original,
◦ than a shadow accurately resembles the object that casts it

Again the writer makes an unexpected jump
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:6-7

What we expect to hear is something like,
Christ has obtained a ministry that is better than the Levitical priests
– or perhaps he could begin to describe the heavenly sanctuary
• but he doesn’t push the contrast of true sanctuary and its copy
◦ though later he will have something to say about the spaces where Jesus conducts his heavenly ministry
• instead, the writer walks us into his next big idea
◦ he sets Jesus’ more excellent ministry side by side with two covenants
◦ Jesus mediates a covenant that is better than a previous covenant
• this does not come as a complete surprise
◦ we have already been told that Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant (Heb. 7:22)
◦ but we have yet to learn what he means by this

Here again is one of our writer’s favorite words, better
– Jesus mediates a better covenant
• most of us have heard Paul’s famous statement,
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5)
• a mediator is someone who works out some sort of agreement between two parties
◦ to settle a dispute, sign a contract, or perhaps reconcile enemies
◦ I had always enjoyed the way the Good News Bible describes reconciliation
All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends. Our message is that God was making all mankind his friends through Christ. . . . We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! (2 Cor. 5:18-20)
– Jesus is the mediator who reconciles us to God
• and in doing so, he creates a bond between us and God through a new covenant

Verse 7 provides a transition from the present thought to the next
– so we won’t linger over it today, but start with it next week

Conclusion: Most people could enjoy a counterfeit painting as much as real

In fact, the average person could mistake a forgery for the authentic piece
– but if we have seen both a real car and a plastic model,
• we would never mistake the one for the other
• nor could we ever mistake a shadow for the substance
◦ hopefully we know the difference between
◦ playing church and a real encounter with God

Many of you know about a book my friend, Michel Herbert wrote, entitled Caught Up to Paradise. In it he describes what he calls his “near-life experience” (others would refer to it a near-death experience). While unconscious, Michael remembers being escorted to heaven. However, he eventually had to return to earth when he regained consciousness. Something I enjoyed reading in his book is how insubstantial our four dimensional universe seemed to him after visiting heaven, which is much the same way C. S. Lewis described heaven in The Great Divorce. There was so much more depth to his experience of heaven than in the limits of our material experience of reality–more colors, more sounds, more life, and more joy in the experience of all these things.
I suppose that to fully appreciate the density of the dimension of reality in which God dwells, and to comprehend the comparative evanescence of our material world, we would need to have an experience like Michael’s.

Our universe isn’t bad or wrong–it is, in fact, “very good” (Gen. 1:31)
– in scripture, the earth and the world are not always the same thing
• the earth is God’s creation
◦ the world is the artificial product of humankind, our fabricated societies
◦ the world is imperfect and incomplete
• God has not left himself without witness, even in our world (Acts 14:16-17)
◦ there are signs and symbols that point to a transcendent dimension
◦ and that dimension completes the universe
– the symbols of the drama we replay in worship,
• are also doorways into the presence of God
• we have not yet seen the fullness of what Hebrews has to say about this
◦ but for now it is enough to know that we are nearer to God in Jesus, than we have ever imagined

Jesus is our mediator,
knowing both the world of our experience
and the reality of God
That means that we can look for signs in our world
that point to a greater reality than what is visible.
Perhaps it will be a leaf, a stone, a single star in the morning.
Or maybe a well, an abandoned house,
a road that runs straight ahead until it disappears in the distance.
But we can look for those signs and symbols
that were designed to point us to God;
prayer, scripture, worship, spiritual community,
Baptism, the Lord’s Supper,
silence and stillness.
This sacred moment.

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