(Hebrews 9: 1-14)


One of my favorite movies is the 1981 hit Raiders of the Lost Ark starring Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, a professor of archeology.  The movie is set in pre-war 1936 and portrays the search for the lost Ark of the Covenant.  The Nazis were interested in it as they thought it was the key to harnessing the power of God.  There is some basis in reality for this as Adolph Hitler and his Nazi collaborators were obsessed with the occult and supernatural.  The problem was that they didn’t understand that the power and significance of the Ark of the Covenant had long ago been transferred to Jesus Christ, the New Covenant made by God with his people.  If the Nazis had read the 9th chapter of the Book of Hebrews, they would have realized that.


And it’s that transfer of power that the writer of Hebrews is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning.  The preacher draws together the themes of covenant, priesthood, sacrifice, and salvation in a way that would make perfect sense to first century Hebrews struggling to understand this transfer of power and authority.  The writer starts out by explaining that the first covenant had regulations for the priests’ service and the holy place on earth.  He tells us that they, the early Israelites, pitched the first tent called the holy place.  This tent contained the lampstand, table and loaves of bread presented to God.  Then there was a second tent behind the second curtain called the holy of holies and in it was contained the gold altar for incense and the chest containing the covenant, which was covered with gold on all sides.  In this chest there was a gold jar containing manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant, you know, the Ten Commandments.  Above the chest, on its cover, there were magnificent, winged creatures, cherubims, casting their shadow over the seat of the chest, where sin is taken care of.  On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies and sprinkle sacrificial blood on this “atonement cover”.  This was the only access to God the people had.  It was through the High Priest that a sacrifice of animal blood would be offered to atone first for his sins and then for the people’s sins.  This description offered up by the preacher tells us of the early tents used by the Israelites who had been rescued from Egypt before settling back in Israel and building the Temple in Jerusalem.  This was a history his hearers and readers would have been very familiar with, and they would have fully understood the significance.  These sacrifices had to be repeated annually and so the preacher sees them as a symbol foreshadowing the perfect sacrifice that Jesus offers.  The preacher says: This is a symbol for the present time.  It shows that the gifts and sacrifices that are being offered can’t perfect the conscience of the one who is serving.  These are superficial regulations that are only about food, drink, and various ritual ways to wash with water.  They are regulations that have been imposed until the time of the new order.  He’s talking about the transfer of power that was achieved with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, the new covenant.  These rituals and regulations were intended to prepare God’s people for this transition to the new way of being God’s people in the world.


The preacher then makes his point when he says: But Christ has appeared as the high priest of the good things that have happened.  He passed through the greater and more perfect meeting tent, which isn’t made by human hands, that is, it’s not a part of this world.  He entered the holy of holies once for all by his own blood, not by the blood of goats or calves, securing our deliverance for all time.   The writer is talking about the supreme sacrifice made by Christ on the cross that has brought with it a personal relationship with God the Father.  This, I believe, is what he means when he says: “the good things that have happened”.  Through the triune God we now have direct access to God through Christ and the Holy Spirit who will guide us in our daily walk in all that we do in His name.  The preacher continues by reasoning: If the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkled ashes of cows made spiritually contaminated people holy and clean, how much more will the blood of Jesus wash our consciences clean from dead works in order to serve the living God?  He offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit as a sacrifice without any flaw.  The difference between the old covenant high priests and Jesus, the high priest of the new covenant, is that the blood Jesus offered was his own.  His blood secured our redemption, an allusion to deliverance from slavery and the fear of death.  Slavery, I believe, from a life of an endless pursuit of worldly possessions and a death where we think the end is the end, there is no more.


Just as Jesus is the superior priest, the offering of his own blood, his very life on our behalf, is far superior to the offering of the lives of animals.  And the import of his sacrifice is greater too, for the earlier sacrifices made worshippers outwardly clean, but it’s the blood of Jesus that cleanses the inward conscience and enables believers who have been delivered from slavery to sin and the fear to death to serve God.  Jesus offered himself through the Holy Spirit to God so that the innermost place of humans might be clean.  This is the language of salvation, the cleansing of our souls from within and not without.


And here’s where I think it gets tough for most Christians who believe they have been saved.  Even though they have been saved they continue to believe that they have to work hard to make themselves good enough for God.  They, we, I, feel the need to make up for past wrongs and question whether a truly loving God can really accept us as an adopted brother or sister of his Son, Jesus Christ.  You believe that what you’ve done in the past, or what you’re doing right now, is just too much for someone as great as God to forgive and move on.  The writer of Hebrews is telling us that God knows that.  The sacrifice of animals was ritualistic and designed to serve as a reminder of those sins and to try and do better.  But the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s own flesh and blood, is a serious commitment to us, God’s fallen and sinful children.  The writer of Hebrews, the preacher, wants us to know that by Jesus’ blood alone; 1) we have had our consciences cleansed, 2) we are freed from death’s sting and can live to serve God, and 3) we are freed from sin’s power.


So, if you are carrying a load of guilt because you have convinced yourself that you can never be good enough for God, take another look at Jesus’ death and know that he sacrificed himself for you.  Christ, as your great high priest, can heal your conscience and deliver you from the frustration of trying to earn God’s favor or resigning yourself to a live a life of helplessness and hopelessness.  Bring your guilt-ridden life to Christ, confess your inability to clean up your own conscience, and ask him to forgive you.  Thank him for the deliverance he offers through the transfer of power from the Law to the New Covenant, a covenant that brings you the peace that passes all understanding.

Let us pray.


O how he loves you and me!  O how he loves you and me!  He gave his life.  What more could he give?  O how he loves you; O how he loves me; O how he loves you and me!  Gracious and loving Father, how we praise you for Jesus’ act of supreme love exhibited on the cross at Calvary where he showed his love for us sinners.  What he did there brought hope from despair as the depth and breadth of your love was conveyed upon Jesus Christ forgiving us of our sins once and for all, freeing us from the bondage of slavery to sin and our fear of an uncertain death.  We praise you for believing that we are worthy of Christ’s great sacrifice and for the gift of the Holy Spirit who will lead us and guide us in your ways.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.