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Jul 13 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

July 12, 2020

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. Hebrews 9:1


Intro: A historic decision was made this past week

It is linked to 1500 years of Christian history
– in 537, the Byzantine emperor, Justinian built the Hagia Sophia
• this was the largest church in world
◦ much later, in the eleventh century, Vladimir I sent emissaries from Russia
◦ their mission was to investigate the merits of different religions

In The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, James Billington says that the emissaries were unimpressed with Islam and Western Christians, “But in Constantinople ‘the Greeks led us to the buildings where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty.’”

• in 1453, Constantinople fell to Ottoman Empire
◦ at that time, the Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque
◦ in 1934, pursuing his goal of modernizing Turkey, President Ataturk declared the Hagia Sophia a museum
– this week, President Erdogan declared the cathedral an Islamic mosque
• how upset should we be about this? – not at all (my opinion)
◦ God does not endorse religious brand names or buildings
◦ not even his own temple in Jerusalem (cf. Jeremiah 7:1-15
• buildings are provisional, but faithful devotion is not negotiable

The “first covenant” was supported by worship

We have seen that in Jesus we have a better covenant (Heb. 8:6)
– and this is the new covenant (Heb. 8:13) of Jeremiah’s prophecy
• the first covenant refers to the one God forged with Israel at Mount Sinai
• remember, the purpose of God’s law and Israel’s worship
◦ it was to maintain their covenant relationship with God

The writer explores Israel’s worship in two parts:
– “regulations for worship” and “an earthly place of holiness”
• in verses 2-5 he takes us through the tent
◦ which is in Luke Johnson’s words, “briefest possible tour”
• in verses 6-7 he provides a selective sketch of the regulations
– the place of worship must be holy for the presence of God to rest there
• so the place was sanctified and consecrated by sacred rituals
• from then on, the regulations served to preserve and renew its holiness

One other thought before moving on:
– the terms “Gods house” and “sanctuary” are not synonymous
• the tent or temple could serve as God’s sanctuary (sacred space)
◦ but God could also remove his sanctuary from the tent or temple
[David to Solomon] . . . the LORD has chosen you to build a house for his sanctuary (1 Chr. 28:10)
• and after Solomon’s temple was destroyed, God said,
and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone (Eze. 11:16)

First, we visit the earthly place
For a tent was prepared, the first section in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail Hebrews 9:2-5

The writer doesn’t seem especially interested in the temple
(neither Solomon’s or the more recent one built by Herod)
– he goes all the way back to the prototype – the tent in the wilderness
• which was also called dwelling place, dwelling of testimony, and tent of meeting
• the blueprint for the tent and furnishings consists mostly of rectangles and squares (and a circle)
◦ sharp, well-defined lines
◦ a courtyard surrounded sacred tent, but our writer does not mention it
– the sacred tent was rectangular and divided into two rooms
• he presents the interior as if we had walked into the first room
◦ the label for this room was the Holy Place
◦ it took up seventy-five percent of the the tent
• in it stood the lampstand and the table of the bread of the Presence
◦ it was as if the presence of God shadowed the bread set out on the table
And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me regularly (Ex. 25:30)

The second room was a cube, and the label for it was the Most Holy Place
– the writer locates the altar of incense in this room
(although in the Old Testament it was placed in front of the curtain in the Holy Place, not the Most Holy Place)
• perhaps because smoke from the incense was to obscure the high priest’s vision of God’s glory
And he shall . . . put the incense on the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is over the testimony (Lev. 16:13)
• this is also where the Ark of the Covenant was placed
◦ in it were the tablets of the covenant on which the commandments were engraved
(the Ark was therefore the physical heart of Israel’s relationship with God)
◦ over the Ark was a lid with sculpted cherubim above it, all of one piece
(the cherubim seem to be guardians of God’s presence–cf. Gen. 3:24)
– God caused his glory to rest in the Most Holy Place
• in it Israel’s most intimate encounter with God took place, on his own turf

The writer cuts off his comments here and provides no other details
– that’s because his main concern is not with the details of the sacred tent
• he is setting the stage on which the action is played out
• so he creates this visual backdrop that is easy for the reader to envision

After visiting the earthly place, he outlines the regulations
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates 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). 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 Hebrews 9:6-10

The priests (plural) perform their duties in Holy Place, regularly
– every day, morning and evening, they would trim the lamps and offer incense
– but only the high priest (singular) would enter the Most Holy Place
• it was inaccessible to everyone else (even the other priests)
◦ and he did not go in “regularly,” but only one once a year
◦ the writer has the Day of Atonement in mind
and not without blood – just make a mental note of this for now

By this the Holy Spirit indicates . . .
– the writer tells us that this arrangement is a revelation
• what we are shown that the tent provided us no direct access to God
◦ each curtain was another barrier
• then he gives us an important key to all of this:
which is symbolic for present age
◦ again, just make another mental note of this
– the writer tells us what these regulations could not do
• they could not perfect the conscience
◦ “conscience” tends to have a moral tone
◦ the Greek word can refer to a consciousness of anything
• regulations could not yield a significant consciousness of God
◦ they could not awaken people to a full awareness of his Presence
– the target of worship is internal
• the regulations did work! They did what they were meant to do
◦ atone sin, purify uncleanness, restore fellowship
◦ but the people were not changed!
• the regulations worked externally, regulations for the body
◦ even Old Testament poets and prophets recognized this
◦ and John the Baptist knew also there was more the service he provided
I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11)

Now writer points out contrast of the new covenant in Jesus
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 entered once and 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. 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, 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. Hebrews 9:11-14

A contrast in time: good things that have come
– time references – not yet (8) present age (9) until time of reformation (10)
– the past situation contrasted with the goodthings that have come
A contrast in the tent: Jesus entered the true sanctuary of God
– not a product of human construction
– a tent that does not belong to our four-dimensional universe
A contrast in the number of visits: once for all
– as opposed to “regularly” or “once a year”
A contrast in blood as a cleansing agent:
– Jesus was not turned to “ashes” (like the red heifer, Num. 19:1-22)
– the “eternal Spirit” — the Spirit is never past tense, but always “now”
A contrast of the external and internal: a purified consciousness
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)
A contrast between dead works and the living God
– we have a very different attitude about worship
– v. 12, Jesus has secured our eternal redemption
• there is nothing in your life he does not want to redeem
◦ no pain or heartache, no sin or trauma, no moment or season
• the “dead works” were like paying a debt, something done as an obligation
◦ have a greater consciousness of God, we offer service as an act of love

Conclusion: How did the writer imagine the tent Jesus entered?

As an actual structure in heaven? Probably not
– compare what Paul said regarding his vision of heaven:
And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that are not speakable and a man cannot lawfully tell (2 Cor. 12:3-4)
– it is not possible to describe heaven in human language
• we have never experienced anything like it
• the closest we can come to meaningful speech is by analogy
◦ the same reason Jesus used parables to describe kingdom of God
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to . . . . The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed . . . . The kingdom of heaven is like leaven . . . . (Mt. 13:24, 31, 33)
◦ “parable” appears many times in the synoptic gospels
◦ but nowhere else in the New Testament, except two times in
– here, in verse 9, the Greek parabole is translated symbolic
Kenneth Shenk refers to references to a heaven tent as “metaphors”
Howard Marshall explains that “things are described in spatial and material terms although they belong to a different sphere of reality.”

Heaven itself is most holy,
there is no need for a holy building or a holy chamber
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” . . . And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty and the Lamb (Re. 21:3, 22)
Jesus gives us this perfect access to God–no curtains or barriers
Jesus is now in the literal space that God’s being occupies,
in direct contact with God’s essence
(I don’t really know how to say this)
One day, he will bring us into that place,
for now, that is where we go in spirit when we pray

Being with God,
Jesus brings us to a new consciousness;
not of sin, but of Presence,
a presence closer than our breath

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