Summary: What was the Old Covenant really all about? Did the Old Testament sacrificial system really take away sins? Why isn't Judaism also a way to be right with God? Hebrews 9:1-14 settles these issues, once and for all.
This last year has been a revelation—a revelation about how you deal with a very contagious and infectious virus that has impacted the entire world and killed millions of people.
The big question this past year has been this: How do you stop the virus? How do you prevent it’s spread? How do you disinfect and destroy the virus? How do you cure the virus? How do you immunize people from its potentially deadly effect?
It’s now more than a year after the crisis was officially declared a worldwide pandemic. All of us have become accustomed to certain rituals, or regulations, all designed to prevent infections, its spread and to even make ourselves immune to it.
The rituals are evident here this morning. We’ve all learned that each of us has to wear a mask covering nose and mouth. We have to socially distance from people we don’t know. That’s evident in our face coverings and how we’re seated this morning. We’ve all learned that singing could communicate the virus, so that’s one thing we don’t do. And more than that, we now have been introduced to another ritual—vaccinations. Most of us are getting one or two shots of a vaccine intended to immunize us altogether from the virus, or from its most serious consequences.
But what perhaps only a few of us have realized is that this Pandemic is symbolic of an even greater problem the whole world has. It’s a problem that has been endemic in the human race for its entire history. It has infected every single human being. It’s the problem of sin. And its consequences are far greater than the Covid-19 virus. For the problem of sin is universally and eternally deadly—all die from it physically, and many die from it spiritually, that is they are destined to experience eternal death spiritually if they don’t accept the death cure.
And there is only one death cure—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross to pay for our sins.
And this morning we visit Hebrews 9 that explains for us just that: that Jesus is the only solution, the only cure for sin that gives eternal life that we have. It also explains something else, that the Old Covenant, and all the regulations for worship, all the rituals that were practiced, were symbols, parables if you will, of how sin would eventually be cured, disinfected, how we could be immunized against it. And the whole reason the Old Covenant was given was to prepare us for the New Covenant cure for sin which would be the Lord Jesus Christ and His death on the cross.
As we’ve mentioned, the writer to the Hebrews is addressing Jewish Christians in Israel in the first century who had grown weary of persecution for being believers. They had grown so weary that they were contemplating abandoning Christ and returning to Judaism. The writer in Hebrews 9:1-14 tells them not to abandon Jesus, because they would be abandoning the only cure for sin & way to God that has been provided.
A natural question that these Jewish Christians might have had about the Old Covenant sacrificial system is that if it worked before Christ came, why wouldn’t it work after He came. If it provided access to God and forgiveness of sins in Old Testament times, why wouldn’t it do so now. What would be so bad about abandoning Christ and going back to the Old Testament sacrificial system? So the writer now explains that the Old Covenant and its sacrificial system were just a symbol explaining that sin denied access to God, and only foreshadowed its solution.
Now I can’t stress enough that the Old Covenant, the Tabernacle, the Temple and the priests, and all the regulations, were just a symbol, a parable, of the problem between man and God, and how that problem would be cured. It was God putting into physical form invisible spiritual realities that would explain the problem of sin before a holy God and would foreshadow and prefigure how the problem would be cured.
So the writer begins briefly to describe the Old Testament sacrificial system, its regulations, and especially the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle, especially, as we shall see, was just a physical copy, a pattern given to men that explained how we could approach God, the barriers to having fellowship with God and living in His holy presence, and clues as to how the cure would ultimately be effected.
Verse one: “Now even the first covenant, the Old Covenant, had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary.” Again, remember the sanctuary refers to the dwelling place of God—the manifest presence of God here on earth among His people. Regulations here refer to the laws, the ways of doing things that were prescribed by God to deal with the infection of sin, and what would happen if sin might spread into God’s holy presence, and rituals that foreshadowed and predicted how sin would be taken away.