HEBREWS 9:1-12

Now even the first covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary. For there was a tabernacle prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the sacred bread; this is called the holy place. Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod which budded, and the tables of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat; but of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time. Accordingly, both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

(New American Standard Version, 1995)

It’s rather easy for me to identify with people’s fleshly desire to turn the Christian faith into a physical religion. Fleshly, material beings desire fleshly, material things and the flesh is always warring with the spirit. But in this passage of scripture, the Hebrew writer makes a clear distinction between the earthly, physical Jewish temple of the old covenant, as laid out and prescribed by the Law of Moses, and the heavenly, spiritual temple of the new covenant.  For the Jews living back in Old Testament times, it was easy for to define their religion by pointing to the Law of Moses, the Ten Commandments, the Levitical priesthood, the Tabernacle or Temple in Jerusalem, as well as the animal sacrifices which they offered, the Sabbath day which they were commanded to keep, and the myriad of other physical signs, symbols, and activities which helped them understand and come to terms with their relationship with God and just who they were as a people.

However, the new covenant in Christ is not anything like that.  Christ Jesus has set us free from all that physical, material, fleshly religious ritualism and ecclesiastical ordinance by translating it all into the spiritual dimension. I do not believe I am overstating the case or exaggerating when I say that there is absolutely NOTHING physical, or material, or temporal, or fleshly about the authentic Christian faith as set forth in the New Testament—other than, perhaps, these physical bodies in which we must dwell for a little while here on earth and which the Bible refers “a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you” (I Corinthians 6:19).

As a matter of fact, taking our example from the above passage of scripture, the Hebrew writer informs us that we no longer have an earthly, physical tabernacle here on earth—in Jerusalem or anywhere else—in which we are to offer sacrifices to God. Rather, our High Priest, Jesus, has entered into the true, heavenly, spiritual tabernacle, the real dwelling place of God, or dimension in which God dwells, with His own blood to become our ultimate sacrifice for sin.  So, no more earthly holy place—certainly no church building anywhere on earth—and no more animal sacrifices.

For another example, we no longer have, or need, a separate physical priesthood to intervene for us, or mediate between God and man, as with the Jews and the Levitical priesthood back in Old Testament days.  Rather, every single disciple of Christ, every Christian, is a priest.  The Bible says: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (I Peter 2:9). Of course, as seen in previous chapters, the Hebrew writer makes it very clear that Jesus is our one and only high priest.  We, therefore, no longer need men to intervene on our behalf and mediate our relationship with God.  We can approach God personally, directly, and intimately through Jesus, our High Priest. Beyond that, we can pray for one another and minister to one another, mutually loving and serving each other in the love of Christ.  But we do not need, and the New Testament certainly does not authorize, any kind of clergy—not priests, not pastors, not early ministers of any kind—to serve as some kind of a distinct priesthood separate and apart from all the rest of us.  Jesus said, “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called [b]leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:8-10).

For yet another example, the new covenant in Christ, because it is spiritual and not temporal, no longer authorizes the observance of special “holy days,” like the Sabbath day. In fact, the Bible says, “Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:16-17).  Every authentic Christian understands, or should understand, that EVERY day is holy unto the Lord because we, the new covenant children of God, are holy unto the Lord.  Even though some old covenant thinkers among us may try to convince us that Sunday, the first day of the week, is the new Christian Sabbath, they are absolutely wrong about that.  They Christian Sabbath is not a day of the week. The Christian Sabbath is the new covenant itself—a concept dealt with in other places in the book of  Hebrews. The entire Christian dispensation, the new covenant in Christ in which we live, is our Sabbath. But many have mistakenly fallen into the trap of fleshly, physical, legalistic, old covenant thinking rather than exercising authentic, spiritual, new covenant thinking. Don’t let yourself fall victim to their legalistic way of thinking.

And, for one more example, note that “worship” under the old covenant Hebrew sacrificial system, was highly programed, regimented, and specified.  It was all very physical and involved the implementation of various material resources—from animal sacrifices to golden goblets, and even priestly apparel. Certain acts of worship could only be practiced as certain times, in specific places, and in very specific ways using the properly ordained tools and utensils, and the designated procedures and protocol. But such is not the case today. In fact, safter saying to the Samaritan woman that He met at Jacob’s well, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father” (place will no longer matter), He then went on to tell her, “…the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21&23-24).  Jesus is not simply prescribing some sanctimonious recipe for the public worship of the church in this passage. He is not saying, when you come to church on Sunday morning to do your prescribed worship service you must do it with the right attitude—spirit—and strictly by the book—truth—as they attempt to equate the new covenant with the old and the New Testament with the book of Leviticus. People who teach such things are fleshly, material, old covenant thinkers who seem to have missed Jesus’ point entirely.

Jesus, as recorded for us in John chapter 4, is doing exactly what the writer of the Book of Hebrews is doing here in chapter 9.  He is describing the nature and terms of the new covenant. While the old covenant worship was played out physically and concerned itself with physical dates, times, places, implements, and rituals, new covenant worship is entirely spiritual—it takes place in the heart, the mind, the spirit of a person who has been informed of the truths concerning just Who one is worshipping, why He alone is worthy of worship, and what He desires of those who worship Him.

There are a number of passages of scripture in the New Testament that touch upon our worship.  But one, in particular, that seems to sum it up pretty well for me can be found in the book of Romans, chapter 12, where the Apostle Paul admonishes us to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (verse 1). He says that the way we do that is to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (verse 2).  From this passage I learn that, while true worship is spiritual in essence, it includes what I choose to do with my body because my body is, after all, the vessel in which my spirit dwells and the only medium I have with which to visibly express the content of my heart. God, therefore, cares about how I choose to use my body and wants my behavior, my words, and my actions to be pleasing in His sight and to express my love and devotion to Him.  But the only way I can be sure to do that is to be “transformed by the renewing or your mind.”  I need to be educated to the truth so that I can make informed decisions about what God expects of me and what does and does not please Him.  So, ultimately, worship an intellectual thing, a spiritual thing, and expression of one’s heart and mind made visible in the way I choose to live.

I know that, as a temporary resident of planet earth—which is currently awaiting its own makeover—I must live out my faith in this tangible, physical, material realm. However, I do that not by meticulously keeping some kind of religious system of justification, or ecclesiastical law, but by learning to live and love in such a way that pleases my Lord and brings glory to His name. And, while it is rather easy for me to identify with people’s fleshly desire to turn the Christian faith into a physical religion, I, for one, don’t want to be guilty of supplanting the glorious, transcendent, spiritual kingdom of God with the mundane physical signs, symbols, rules, and regulations of any particular religious body of doctrine. While others may find comfort in such, I find my comfort and joy in my personal relationship with the Lord; and I will not allow my Christian faith and my worship unto God to be defined by, or limited to, the rules and regulations contained within anybody’s denominational creed or religious practice in this physical realm.

People are constantly looking for outward signs and symbols by which to identify God’s kingdom on earth. But remember, Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke17:20-21).

Oh God, my Heavenly Father, holy and exalted be Your name! I come to You in prayer by the authority of Your Son, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and in His name I now stand before You in this spiritual place, this place in my heart, wherein I fall to my knees and bow before you in worship.  I beseech You, Father, by Your Spirit moving through Your living and active word, to grace me with the knowledge of truth I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind so that, in this mortal body that You’ve given me, I can demonstrate and exemplify what Your will is—that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  I know that I often fail You in that mission and purpose, and that my worship, like every other aspect of my life, falls so short of Your glory. I have no goodness, or righteousness, or devotion, or even the slightest inkling of perfection, in and of myself, with which to come before You or to offer up to You as a sacrifice of praise.  The only righteousness or goodness that I can claim and can offer up to You as worship is that with which You have already clothed me—the righteousness of Your only begotten Son, Jesus, Who took all my sin upon Himself and gave me His holiness in exchange. He is my sin offering, my guilt offering, my peace offering, my most holy sacrifice unto You and I worship and praise You in accordance with that eternal truth. Oh God, In recognition of Who You are and all that You’ve done for me, I lift my body, my heart, my mind, my soul, my very life to You in gratitude, devotion, and praise.  May my life reflect the love that You’ve shown to me and may I become a living and holy sacrifice unto You each and every day that I live… now, and unto eternity.

Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud

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