HEBREWS 9:13-28

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.  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, so that we may serve the living God!  For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

(New International Version)

I know that you probably have a lot of goals and ambitions for your life.  I hope you are following your dreams of becoming a dancer, or an artist, or a musician, or a magician, or an architect, or a fashion designer, or a nurse practitioner, or a trucker, or a heavy equipment operator, or a marine biologist, or a teacher, or a social worker, or an attorney, or a successful business owner, or even, heaven forbid, a minister.

I hope that you never allow other peoples’ “stinkin thinkin” to dissuade you and keep you from pursuing your dreams.  People like to judge and criticize, don’t they.  People love to “troll,” as we say on the internet, and say things, or post comments, meant to hurt.  Despite all our contemporary rhetoric about celebrating difference and accepting one another, people still look for every conceivable way to “dis” others, mock them, ridicule them, make fun of them, and put them down.  People are privately, if not publicly, discriminated against based on their race, ethnicity, disabilities, education, gender, religion, social and economic standing, and even their “weight” and “age.” And all that bias and criticism can really take a big toll on our self-perception and our dreams.

Oh, I know, once you’re in your 30’s or 40’s your dreams of becoming a professional athlete are probably not going to become a reality – but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay physically active with the sports you love  and have fun on the softball field, or on the local bowling league, or paddling as a member of an outrigger canoe club, or participating as a dancer in a hula halau, or touring the countryside on weekends with your bicycling club, or just exploring the outdoors, hiking, camping… maybe do a little photojournalism on the side while you’re out there in the environment.

What I’m saying is, “life is for the living” – so stay alive, stay active, stay engaged, get involved, find an outlet for your artistry, you academics, your abilities and interests.  If you can convince your wife to let you, join up with a local motorcycle gang (a good one, you know, the guys who are not afraid to “man up” and actually serve the community).  And if you can find fellow believers, Christians, who share your faith and share your spiritual values, look for ways to pursue some of your goals, dreams, and ambitions together with them.  In fact, that’s my idea of church – right there!

My idea of the “perfect” church, or Christian fellowship, is one that is rooted and grounded in the teachings of God’s word, filled with love and compassion, and  that gets together regularly on the weekends to go biking, or kayaking, or hiking, or surfing, or whatever other activities they happen to be into. And while they’re out there sharing life with one another, they take time to stop and give glory to the Lord.  Perhaps even right in the middle of their activities, or maybe at the end of the day. But while they’re out there living life together, they pause for a little devotional time—they read their Bibles together and share their thoughts, they pray together and maybe encourage one another with a song, they partake of the Lord’s Supper—that’s right, communion—together.  Oh, and they’re also always encouraging one another to be on the lookout for how to use their resources, individually and collectively, to love, serve, and minister to others; and for ways to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost and dying world.

And if there are men among our circles of fellowship who we look to as men of wisdom and compassion and who are Biblically versed,  then we should recognize them as our shepherds, our pastors, the “elders” among us.  And if there are men and women with unique talents for specific areas of service, then we should ask them to use their talents and gifts to address corresponding needs that may arise and recognize these folks as designated servants, or “deacons.” among us.  And if we want to pool our funds to help spread the gospel or to accomplish some specific ministerial or benevolence work, like the Apostle Paul encouraged the churches of Asia Minor to do when they sent funds down to the elders in Jerusalem during a time of hardship and famine, then following the examples we have in scripture, we should by all means do so.

We don’t need all the typical modern-day accommodations to do this. There is no precedent or example set forth in scripture that requires church incorporation under any particular denominational label.  There is nothing mentioned in scripture about acquiring property, constructing church buildings, paving parking lots, or setting up the plethora of programs, projects, and ministries that we commonly think of as “church work.” Christians today do all these things entirely without any specific Biblical authority. Am I saying that it’s “wrong” for Christians to come together and do all these things? No, it’s not necessarily wrong, in that the freedom of the new covenant certainly permits these kinds of things.  But we might ask the question, “What about when spending loads of money on church buildings keep us from spending the funds on loving and serving people or preaching and teaching the Gospel at home and around the world?”

Furthermore, we don’t need, and God no longer requires, designated places and times for “worship services”—all detailed, structured, and officiated by a separate priesthood or the professional clergy among us. As the book of Hebrews points out, they already had all of that under the old covenant. But the Bible says, “if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another” (Hebrews 8:7).  So, God said, “I will make a new covenant” and that new covenant “will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors” (Hebrews 8:8-9). The people with whom Jesus interacted during His earthly ministry already had Moses and the prophets, the law, the priesthood, the temple, and the whole sacrificial system of worship. But still, Jesus said, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Ultimately, their religion could not give them life. And people want to “life,” not just religion. People want life with God and with one another. They want to share life and love with one another—not just congregate once or twice a week. God wants that for us, as well.  It’s the whole reason He has given us the new covenant in Christ.

There is a huge emphasis in this section of the book of Hebrews on “blood.”  Scholars have said that this is the very heart of the book.  The people who lived under the old covenant and the Law of Moses were very familiar with the concept of blood sacrifice.  It happened regularly all the time, thousands of animal were sacrificed up at the Temple each day—day after day after day—as well as at all the specially appointed holy days throughout the year.  As the writer of the book of Hebrew points out here in chapter 9, the covenant that God made with the Children of Israel back in Old Testament days was inaugurated through the blood of animals.  Blood was essential to the ceremonial cleansing, not only of the people, but of even all the implements necessary to performing the acts of worship prescribed by the Law of Moses. In fact, the Hebrew writer goes so far as to say, “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood…” and then He goes on to make an incredibly powerful statement when he says, “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (verse 22).  Of course, as the Hebrew writer has already pointed out earlier in the chapter, all this ceremonial cleansing by the blood of animals could not “clear the conscience of the worshiper” (verse 9).  People continued to languish in fear, doubt, and guilt over their sins—“can the death of this animal really pay for my sin”—and, whether they fully realized it at the time or not, the answer, of course, was a resounding, “No!” And so, there was still the constant and continual reminder of sin, as yet another animal sacrifice was again being led to slaughter day after day after day.

I’m glad those days are behind us now, aren’t you? To be a new covenant child of God, a Christian, is to be a participant in the priesthood of all believers. As discussed in our earlier devotionals, you and I are priests, according to scripture, and Jesus is our only High Priest. The sacrifices we, as priests, offer up to God are our very lives.  Remember, the Apostle Paul said, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do 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” (Romans 12:1-2).  What a glorious ministry He has given to us—that we can live each and every day as priests, offering up our very bodies, as well as our hearts and minds, as living and holy sacrifices.  But this beautiful life of worship is quite impossible without faith in the cleansing and healing power of God poured out upon us through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, Who had shed His own blood for us on the cross.  The statement that the Hebrew writer makes here in chapter 9 is still true: “and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (verse 22). 

People who are writhing in the guilt and anguish of sin, who do not trust the heart of God or the power of God to truly forgive them and, therefore, have not and will not fully accept the cleansing power of Christ’s blood, simply do not have the emotional strength or spiritual wherewithal to continually offer themselves up unto God as living and holy sacrifices and thus prove by their very lives “what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Instead, they either grovel in their guilt and self-condemnation or they resist God in prideful rebellion.

To experience life and life abundantly, to find our purpose in living and lay hold of the dreams God has planted in our hearts, to be able to rightfully lay hold of our spiritual ministry and offer up our hearts and lives unto God as living and holy sacrifices, requires an authentic faith in “the blood of Christ” which will “cleanse your conscience from dead works” (NASB), or “cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death” (NIV)… “so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14).

I love the fact that, “Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us,” and that, “now once, at the consummation of the ages, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (verses 24&26).  This provides for each and every one of us a direct connection to God Himself.  We no longer need a separate priesthood, or clergy, or some earthly religious organization calling itself a “church,” to be our intercessor or mediator. Because Jesus, our High Priest, has made the final and total sacrifice to pay the price for our sins, we no longer have to languish in fear, doubt, and guilt over our own sins and transgressions.  Our trust in God’s love for us and in the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, as we, through the eyes of faith, gaze upon the cross and fall to our knees in acknowledgment of all He has done for us, removes all guilt and empowers us to lift up our lives in service to Him in everything we do each day.

The Hebrew writer closes the chapter saying, “And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.” (Hebrews 9:24-28)  Wow! I’m wondering if we’re really aware of just how brief our little life span really is? No matter how long we may be privileged to live upon the earth, it will all go by so much quicker than we think. Soon, it will be our turn to leave this old world and there will be no coming back, no “re-do.” An Old Testament prayer psalm, attributed to Moses, says, “So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). In the mean time, I’m sincerely hoping that you’re still pursuing those personal dreams that God has planted in your heart; even as you surrender them up to Him to take and use however He chooses to His honor and glory.  And, even more than that, I hope that your ultimate dream is always to love Him, to serve Him, and in the end, when it’s all said and done, to be with Him.  No matter our goals, our ambitions, or our earthly hopes and aspirations, may the culmination of it all, in your heart and mine, be getting to go home and live with Him forever.

“Eagerly awaiting…”

Lord God, my heavenly Father, it seems so easy for me to read and write these things. You know I’m always up for teaching and preaching to others.  But Lord, I want it to go far beyond that in my own heart and life. I want my faith to be real, not mere mental assent. I want all my hope, all my trust, all my confidence to be in Your Son, the One who lived and died for me. I trust not in my own track record; it’s pretty bad and would only condemn me. But my every hope—my confident expectation—lies only in the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus, My Lord and Savior… the righteousness that characterized His heart and life, the cross He bore, the pain He endured, and the blood He shed as He paid the price for all my sins at Golgotha. Oh God, may such love, Your love, transcend my mortal sin, transform my heart and life, and conform me to the image of Your Son as I seek to live for You and offer my body, my heart, and, yes, all the my hopes and dreams up to You as a living and holy sacrifice each and every day that You give me here upon the earth.

Copyright © 2023 Philip R. Stroud

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