At times, we try to put a Band-Aid on cancer. We want to use an external approach to solving an internal problem. Instead of taking your car to a mechanic, you put a sticker over an offending check engine light. Instead of learning how to program the clock on a VCR, how many people simply covered it with black electrical tape?
This was the same problem faced by Jewish believers in the first century. Because of persecution, they were tempted to leave Christianity and return to the rituals of the Old Testament Law. The writer of the book of Hebrews tries to point out that the Law was never intended to cleanse the inner person. In Hebrews 9:1-14, he states, “Don’t use an external approach to solve an internal problem. Only Christ can give us a clear conscience.”
Don’t use an external approach to solve an internal problem (1-10). The author of Hebrews explains that the Old Covenant tabernacle did not meet the deepest needs of God’s people, namely, providing an intimate personal relationship with God. He points out that the tabernacle for inferior for six reasons:
The tabernacle was an earthly sanctuary (1). The tabernacle was a building built by people. As such, it would wear out and need to be replaced. In addition, it was limited geographically as it could only be in one place at a time.
The tabernacle was a type of something greater (2-5). Each part of the tabernacle had a spiritual meaning and pointed to something of greater significance. The lampstand reminded Israel that they were to be a light to the nations. Jesus is the light of the world. The table of showbread reminded Israel that God was present among them. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. The altar of incense was a picture of prayer ascending to God. Jesus Christ intercedes for us. The ark of the covenant contained the mercy seat where blood was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin.
The tabernacle kept people from God (6). Ordinary people were not allowed to enter God’s presence and worship him. Only the priests and Levites were allowed to worship in the tabernacle.
The tabernacle was ineffective (7). The sacrifices only dealt with the sins of ignorance; sins committed unintentionally. There was no provision for premeditated sins.
The tabernacle was temporary (8). The fact there was an outer court was proof that God’s work of salvation was not yet complete.
The tabernacle was external rather than internal (9-10). The sacrifices and offerings could never change the heart or conscience of a worshipper.
The Old Testament tabernacle focused on rules rather than relationship. It regulated behavior but did not cleanse the heart and conscience. Something greater was needed.
Only Christ can give us a clear conscience (11-14). When Christ appeared as our great high priest, things changed (11). While the blood of bulls and goats could not solve the problem of human sin (11-13), Christ did by offering himself as our sacrifice. In so doing, he bought our redemption and purified our conscience (14).
Application. Don’t overemphasize the external activities and rituals of religion. Instead, focus on the internals and let Christ change your heart.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 21, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.