Summary: Jesus came as High Priest of the New Covenant. What this means for the Christian believer’s security is here explained
Our reading from Hebrews chapter 10 this morning is headed ’Christ’s Sacrifice once for all’ What the mystery writer of Hebrews is really telling us is that Christ fulfilled, made complete all that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament Covenant. I want to spend a little while just appreciating what that means for us as Christian believers.
All religions have their priests. The religious role of priest was twofold-to represent man to god and god to man
-to offer sacrifice to appease the god(s)
This basically was the role of the Old Testament priesthood: the Levitical priesthood, but their was a major difference. Pagan priests offered what they thought beast in appeasement: in the Old Testament the priesthood was based on God’s ordinance and on the sacrifices that God ordained. When we would turn away at the thought of the animal sacrifices and the blood, let us remember that it was God’s way. The temple altars would have been a very bloody place; gallons of the stuff washing around. We find the idea offensive, and some modern Bible translations try to do away with blood- especially in relation to the death of Christ and ideas of ’propitiation’
The key day, which still features large in the Jewish calendar is Yom kipp’ur- the ’Day of Atonement’. This was God’s provision for his erring covenant people; his provision to atone for their sin, literally to ’cover it over’. The act of atonement was the responsibility of the High Priest, who first had to prepare himself before he would enter that part; that inner part, of the Temple specially set apart; that part where God’s presence dwelt. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary...the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance (Lev 9:1,6) And then the crowds would wait anxiously outside, to see if the Priest would come out alive! The requirements for the Day of Atonement were laid down in Leviticus 16. The High Priest was to take from the (community) two male goats for sin offering and a ram for burnt offering (v5) After offering the ram for his own sin, he would draw lots over the goats. He would enter the Holy Place with a bull’s blood, which he would sprinkle, on the Mercy Seat. Then, cleansed from sin, he would re-enter with the goats. One he
would slaughter and would sprinkle the altar with its blood to obtain clean-ness for the people for another year. The second goat: firstly he would lay his hands on it and confess the people’s sin on it. Having laid their sins on the goat, it would be driven off into the wilderness, never to return, taking the sins away with it: it was the ’scapegoat’ If the priest then emerged alive, they would sigh with relief: the sacrifice had been accepted and their sin covered for another year!
Now, the sacrificial system was effectively an integral part of the Old Covenant, dealing with the inherent inability of the people to adhere to the Covenant terms. And with all this in mind and recalling the promise of Jeremiah of a new covenant, we recall that as the Lord Jesus Christ took the cup in the Upper Room he said This cup is the new covenant in my blood (1 Cor 11:25)
But let’s go back to the High Priestly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. They are no longer required. Hebrews 8:13 says that by calling the covenant ‘new’ he has made the first one obsolete
Remember that the High Priest had to go into the Most Holy Place once a year for atonement of the people’s sins, first having to offer a sacrifice for his own. Then if he reappeared safe and well, the people knew that God was pleased with the sacrifice and they were O.K. for another year. But it was an unsure, precarious place to be in. If we string together a few verses from Hebrews 9, we will see how absolutely secure we are.
He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption
How much more then will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death.
For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself to appear for us in God’s presence, (vv 12,14,24)