When I was in Israel this past spring one of the places we visited was the deserted area of Timna, Park. Timna is located almost at the very southernmost edge of Israel. Traveling there gives you quite a feel for what the wilderness was like for the Israelites. There is nothing but rocks and sandy dirt for miles on end. The only thing that breaks up the landscape are the mountains that jet up all around you. But even they are nothing but piles of rock and dirt themselves. There’s not a tree or anything green to behold.
And as I walked through the site and saw all the different pieces of furniture, I realized in a new way that this place was the hub of religious activity. I imagined all the Israelites in their camps spread out all around the area, and it struck me that this was the place where people would have had the most significant contact with God.
Out in the camps, people went about their daily activities of preparing their meals, washing their clothes, and engaging in the ordinary duties of life. But here in the temple, it was always about God. The sum and substance of tabernacle was that it was the place where one had the closest contact with God on earth.
It is this idea that the author of Hebrews speaks to in our verses this morning. He wants us to think about having real and true access to God. Most especially, he wants us to understand that it is only through Christ that we may have this access. That’s what makes him superior. That’s what makes him so vital to one’s faith. Without him, the author says, no one has any real contact with God.
As a matter of fact, this is the whole point of the first 10 verses of this passage. In verses 1-10 the author talks about the tabernacle and how it really doesn’t give one access to God.
I. The lack of access [1-10]
The first six verses introduce us to the layout of the tabernacle. It tells us that you have basically two rooms, one room existing inside of the other. The first room, it says here, was called the Holy Place, and it had various pieces of furniture. And the OT said that the priests could enter this room and do their thing as they pleased. They had access to that room pretty much whenever they wanted.
Then there was a second room, which was called “the Holy of Holies.” Verses 4-5 mention that it has various pieces of furniture too. But what’s distinctive about this room is that it was blocked off by a curtain. And it reminds us that the priests weren’t allowed to venture past that curtain. They didn’t have that kind of liberty. That’s because this room was supposed to be the dwelling place of God. And God was basically, off limits. No one had the right to enter because they were not holy enough.
But then verses 7-10 tell us that there was one guy who could go into that room. It was the high priest. But even he could only do it once a year. And even when he was permitted, he couldn’t just walk in. He had to have blood with him and he had to offer sacrifices. So the whole time he was in there in that sacred place, it was shrouded with death.
It wasn’t like something that you might see featured on the cover of CCM magazine where people are standing before the Lord with their hands raised, enjoying a feeling of ecstasy because they are in the presence of God. No. The whole time he was in there it wreaked of death.
Now, notice what is said in verses 8-9. The author here gives a little commentary. He says, “By this [i.e. this lack of access to that inner room] the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing.”
He’s basically saying that even this Holy of holies—this most holy place, was still not a place where you had real access to God. Even if you were privileged enough to be that one man who went in there, the only thing you got to meet with was a dead animal.
And then he says that all of this is “symbolic for the present age.” What’s he mean by that? He’s trying to say that this is really what we all experience right now. We’ll go on to find out that we do have access to God. But it’s not a full access, is it? Do any of us really stand in the presence of God? No. Even if we are a Christian, we still live this side of heaven. We still don’t have full access to God.
So these 10 verses are reminding us that we don’t have access to God. And really, if you read further into it, it is reminding us that we are sinners. Why is it that we don’t have access to God? It is because God cannot stand the presence of sin. This goes all the way back to the be beginning of time. When Adam first sinned, what happened? God expelled him from his presence. We were doomed to live in exile because we had been defiled by the corruption of sin.
And that’s really what death is all about. You know, a lot of people in our day think that death is just a natural part of life. They say that death is just how life ends. It is just part of the natural processes of life, so that when things finally run their course, you die.
But that’s not the biblical idea of death. Death, biblically speaking, is the expression of what we are talking about here. Death is the curse of God on sin. It is what the lack of access to God really looks like. With God there is life and eternal happiness. But apart from God there is nothing but death and eternal misery.
And all that is said here in these first 10 verses is to remind us that each of us is in that miserable state. We do not have access to God and therefore we are in danger of being left out of it forever.
But this is where verses 11-12 come in. In these verses we see that God has not left us in such a predicament. In these verses we see that access to God is possible because Christ. Christ has become for us the means of access.
II. The means of access [11-12]
Look at verse 11. You see that here he points out how Christ is a greater high priest who has entered a greater tabernacle, which is, of course, heaven. And, what’s more, he entered with a better offering: He came with his own blood, and not with the blood of bulls and goats.
And because he shed his own blood, it says he came “once for all.” In other words, there is no more need for any of these sacrifices that were offered ad nauseam in the OT era. His sacrifice was the sufficient payment.
God required blood. He required death. That was the wages of sin. We couldn’t have access to God because we deserved to die. And all the sacrificial system was instituted to remind us of this. The animals though, poor things, were merely innocent bystanders. They didn’t do anything that deserved death. And that’s why their blood could not be a sufficient offering.
God required human blood because it was man who had sinned. Man deserved to die. But this is the good news of the gospel: Christ has died in our place, and has taken upon himself the curse that was due to us. And because he has shed his blood, justice has been served; God’s wrath has been appeased. And since God’s anger has been appeased, we who believe in him may now have access to God.
So you see that the author here is pressing Christ and the need for him. He’s basically saying, “If we are going to have access to God, there’s only one way that’s going to be done. It is through Christ and his sacrificial death.”
And this is why we are so adamant about Christ being so necessary for salvation and there being no other means of salvation except him. He’s the only one who can provide access to God and that’s because his blood is the only means of appeasing God’s wrath.
I understand that most people today don’t think of God as being angry. But he is. He is angry with sinners every day. Sin infuriates him. And there is no way we can enter heaven and have peace with God unless that anger is pacified. And that’s why you have to come to Christ for salvation. It is only by his blood that this happens.
In the 14th century Robert the Bruce was next in line to the Scottish crown. He led the fight to gain independence from England. At one point in the conflict, the English were about to capture him. He escaped into the forest, so they put bloodhounds on his trail.
When Bruce heard the dogs baying loudly as they closed in on him, he headed for a stream that flowed through the forest, plunged in, and waded upstream a distance. Coming out on the other bank, he was now in the depths of the forest.
Within minutes, the hounds, tracing Bruce's steps, came to the bank, but they went no farther. The English soldiers urged them on, but the trail was broken. The stream had carried the scent away. A short time later, the crown of Scotland rested on the head of Robert Bruce.
The anger of God pursues us like those baying dogs. But a stream flows red with the blood of God's own Son. This stream breaks the trail of God's anger. It puts it to rest once and for all and makes it possible for us to gain entry into God’s kingdom.
Even though our sin prevents us from having access to God, it can be gained by means of Christ’s blood. And as the author points this out, he also notes that there are certain blessings that accompany it.
III. The blessings of access [13-15]
I think that the passage brings out two benefits that Christ bestows along with the access he provides. The first is that of eternal life. It is first mentioned in verse 12, where it talks about our having obtained “eternal redemption.” And we see it again in verse 15 where it says that we have an “eternal inheritance.”
Both of these verses are stressing the eternality of our life with God. The idea of redemption comes from the slave world. In the OT a person who had become a slave could be redeemed (that is, bought back). One payment had been given they could live as a free person once again, without any fear of being enslaved again.
The idea of an inheritance is a big OT idea too. When they first entered the promised land each tribe was allotted certain portions. When you’re parents died, you inherited it and got to enjoy it. And to have that land was to have a treasure that ensured your livelihood. To be without land is essentially to be dead.
So these two terms “redemption” and “inheritance” are employed to show forth what Christ has gained for us. We who trust in Christ have the hope of eternal life and the expectation of enjoying God’s favpr forevermore.
The other privilege that we enjoy is found in verse 12. Not only will we have eternal life, but it says that we can have a “clear conscience.”
This stands in contrast to the people of the OT. If you look back at verse 9 you’ll see this this. It is phrased differently in some of our versions as it is a little difficult to translate. But the idea is that the worshippers in the ancient times offered all these sacrifices, but none of them could perfect the conscience. That is to say, none of them could really alleviate the guilt that one feels as a result of his sin.
This is yet another reason why the New Covenant is better than the old. All through the Old Testament, the saints had their sins hanging over their heads. Even as they sacrificed their bulls and goats, they still would have been the lingering feeling of not being right with God. As we just said, that animal didn’t do anything. He wasn’t supposed to die.
So every time they offered a sacrifice, there was the creeping suspicion that their sin was still hanging over their heads. So the voice of their conscience would have still irked them.
But for us, it is different. We may enjoy a quieted conscience because Christ offers us full forgiveness of sin.
I think this is something that many people can testify to when they first come to faith in Christ. People talk about having a warm sensation or a feeling of lightness when they are converted. I really think that they are describing what happens in their conscience. All the guilt and shame is alleviated and it is like a burden rolls off one’s back. They feel warm because the guilt had its cold grip on their soul up until this point.
Perhaps that is something one of you needs too. I wouldn’t doubt that someone here today has that little voice in their head that he’s always trying to quite. He’s constantly got that uneasy feeling that he’s done this or that and that he’s not right with God.
A lot of people try and quiet that voice by trying to slam the door on it. They try and shove it out of their minds or they try and cover it up by turning up the volume of the radio. But really, there’s only one way to put it to rest. It is by turning to Christ. For when you come to Christ he offers you his blood. And with his blood comes forgiveness. And with forgiveness comes access to God.
Six years after the groundbreaking, laborers of the Central Pacific Railroad from the west and the Union Pacific Railroad from the east met at Promontory Summit, Utah. It was here on May 10, 1869, that Leland Stanford drove The Last Spike (or golden spike) that joined the rails of the first transcontinental railroad.
This event was so monumental that the hammers and spike were wired to a telegraph line so that each hammer stroke would be heard as a click at telegraph stations nationwide. Unfortunately the hammer strokes were missed, so the clicks were sent manually by the telegraph operator. As soon as the ceremonial spike had been replaced by an ordinary iron spike, a message was transmitted to both the East Coast and West Coast that simply read, "DONE." The country erupted in celebration upon receipt of this message. Travel from coast to coast was reduced from six months or more to just one week.
It is interesting that the union of those two railroads gives us a great illustration of what occurs here in this passage. 2000 years ago two distant parties were united when the nails of Christ’s cross were driven into his flesh. A message was sent to the vast regions of the earth: “It is finished.” Today we can celebrate the fact that through faith in Christ we may have access to God. And because of his blood we know that we will soon travel to the other side to be with Him.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.