September 24, 2017
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the denomination in which I was originally ordained. For that denomination, the process of ordination is two-fold. First one must examine for Licensure (to be licensed to preach) and then one is examined for ordination. Exams, written and oral accompany both levels.
When I was originally examined for licensure, one of the questions on the written exam was to describe the Tabernacle from the outside working one’s way inwardly, also listing and describing the theological significance of each piece of furniture contained within.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, “What in the blue-blazes does that have to do with anything that you would need to know in the ministry?” And, on one level, you would be right to ask the question. It is a pretty obscure thing for most of us. In eleven years of full-time ministry and another ten years of preaching before that, I don’t think that I have ever been asked that question as people leave worship. I would also wager that the majority of pastors in the area would probably have difficulty answering the question and it hasn’t hurt their ministry at all.
So, that was my first thought, too, when I saw the question on the exam. Thankfully, I had an Old Testament professor who had just finished writing a two-volume commentary on the book of Exodus who thought it was important for us to know that piece of information and so, he drilled it into us.
So, why is it important?
One answer that you might give is that as a Church pastor, I function much like a theological quarterback for the church. Quarterbacks must know their playbook backwards and forwards, inside and out, and while I do not want to reduce the Bible to a playbook, as pastor, I need to know the Bible just as thoroughly.
But, if we hold to that answer, it still means that this knowledge is irrelevant (more or less) to the life of the believer, yet the Apostle Paul states in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, that all Scripture is God-breathed and thus it is profitable for us to prepare us for every good work.
That means that the layout of the Temple (because it is recorded in Scripture) is not obscure trivia for preachers to know and for congregations to forget.
But, why then, is it important for us to know?
The answer is that the tabernacle and its furnishings are designed to point us to Christ.
Think about it this way: the tabernacle in the wilderness was a special place. It was holy and set apart for the worship of God’s people, everything inside was crafted of gold and ornately made and only the priests were granted to lay their eyes on them…others would be struck dead for doing so.
Even more importantly, the glory cloud of God — older writers called this the “Shekinah Glory” of God, literally, “the Glory of God’s presence.” This glory descended into the Tabernacle when the Israelites stopped in a given location to set up camp. The people and the scriptures then make a big deal about it and its furnishings as it represented God’s presence.
The altar outside was for sacrifices, anticipating the sacrifice of Christ.
Inside the Holy Place, the first section was the table of Shebread — one loaf for each of the twelve tribes and a goblet for wine, symbolizing God’s people’s presence before him at all times and anticipating the Lord’s Supper. Also was the Lampstand, or the Menorah, kept lit during the night to represent that there is no darkness in God and that his Word is the light to the nations. It is also the symbolism behind the Holy Spirit being called “the Seven-Spirits of God.”
At the curtain between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies is an Altar if Incense, which burns 24 hours a day, reflecting the prayers of the people always being before God.
Then, there is the Holy of Holies where the High Priest only goes in once per year with the blood of Atonement. Here was the Ark of the Covenant with God’s mercy seat on top, containing Manna, Aaron’s staff, and the Ten Commandments…grace, faithfulness, and law.
All of this points to Christ, but my fear is that we don’t take Christ seriously enough. We talk about him, we sing about him, but do we really revere him as these Israelites revered the Tabernacle?
When Sunday morning comes, do we get up for church just because it is what we always do or because it would be unconscionable to be anywhere else but worshipping with God’s people on the Lord’s Day?
When it comes to reading the Bible, do we hang onto every word, pondering it, thinking about it, and desiring to apply it to our lives?
Do we think of our lives as our own? Or, do we reverently recognize that we are called to be servants in the service of King Jesus?
One thing that you have often heard me say is that the one thing that makes this church different than secular organizations of the world is God’s presence in our midst. Yet, that applies to our persons as well. Peter calls you a priest…and thus, because of Christ, you have access to the inner parts of the Tabernacle and are able to see what the outsiders cannot see…not things made of silver and gold, but something better — to see the beauty of Christ and to look upon his glory.
Do know that I know that the book of Hebrews can seem pretty abstract at points. And some of you have been asking for more practical application. The practical application is this: Many of you live Monday through Saturday…and sometimes even on Sundays!…no differently than the agnostic or atheist in our community. This is particularly the case when it comes to our occupations or playing sports. And that is just not healthy for your soul. It is also not healthy for your witness.
If your lives don’t look different than the world, then our witness will not be compelling. And the only way that our lives will truly look different is if we are overwhelmed by, inundated with, and engulfed in the majesty, the beauty, the glory, and the awe of our Lord and Savior…and that does not mean in an emotional, will-nilly, hands waving in the air because everyone else is doing it kind of faith, but one that focuses on and is guided by the way God reveals himself in his Word.
This is why Paul writes in Romans 12:2, that the way in which we avoid being conformed by this world is through the renewing of our minds. And our minds are renewed only as they are set and settled on and in the things of Scripture.
So, “Study to show yourself approved…” and crave meat, not milk. And you will find your life will begin to look different than that of your neighbor. Trust me, I am a sinner, just as you are, and have a family just as you do. I know the temptations to get busy and to treat the Sabbath as just another day, but it is just not healthy for you to do that. Further, we will not change the culture until we as Christians make a unified stand against the things around us…and our stand is not unified. We sadly all too often fear the disapproval of men more than the disapproval of God.
So, as the Author of Hebrews moves through some of these seemingly abstract references, know that his goal is to draw a contrast between the minimal glory of men and the magnificent glory of Christ and woe to you if you trust the former and not the latter.
So, as we enter chapter 9, we find ourselves with a picture of the Old Testament Tabernacle.
“Even the first (covenant) had ordinances (rules) of worship and an earthly holy place.”
This is the Tabernacle, the place of worship for God’s people in the Old Testament administration of God’s covenant — replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem, which is based on the design of the Tabernacle, just is no longer portable and is larger, constructed in brick and mortar.
“A tent was prepared, the first part in which was both the lamp stand and the Table, which had the Bread of Presence (shewbread) and that is called the Holy Place.”
“But within the second part, which is veiled, is the Holy of Holies, having the altar of incense (the division between the two parts) and the Ark of the Covenant, covered with gold on all sides, which has the golden urn of manna, the staff of Aaron, which budded, as well as the Tablets of the Covenant.”
“Also (verse 5), the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat, concerning which we cannot now speak in detail.”
The author is essentially walking us through the Tabernacle, from the altar (anticipating Christ’s sacrifice) to the mercy seat of God, which is where the blood of the offering would be sprinkled.
He goes on in verse 6 to state:
“So, in this way, the things having been made ready (rituals and sacrifices), the priests enter the first portion of the Tabernacle, completing their service (keeping the incense lit, lighting the menorah, and replacing the shewbread). As to the second (the Holy of Holies) only once a year the High Priest goes, and not without blood, which he offers for himself and for the people’s unintentional sins.”
Unintentional sins being the basis for the idea of sins of omission.
“Yet, the Holy Spirit makes clear — that the path into the Holy Place is not yet revealed while the first Tabernacle still holds its position.”
In other words, as we discussed last week, Jesus must do away with the old — spiritually taking place in the Cross and physically taking place in 70 AD.
This is also just one more reason that the Christian sects who hold that there will be a future rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem are in error, because with the Temple in place, the pathway to Christ through faith is obscured.
Verse 9 — and here we begin to see the contrast about to be made
“This is a parable for the present time…(what is the purpose of parables? Jesus says they are to keep the blind, blind so they don’t turn and repent — contrast: earthly Tabernacle (the shadow) and a Heavenly one) both gifts and sacrifices are offered, but they are not able to perfect the conscience of the worshipper, but are instead only about food and drink and distinctive baptisms — ordinances of the flesh, imposed until the time of the new order.”
The earthly Tabernacle is an ineffective administration…
“But when Christ drew near as a High Priest of the coming (future) good, through the greater and perfect tabernacle which was not made by hands and is not of this creation” — a move from the earthly to the spiritual.
“Not through the blood of goats and calves, but entered the Holy place through his own blood, finding eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and calves and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on a defiled person (notice how sprinkling language parallels the language of baptism in verse 10) could sanctify the flesh for purification, then how much more greatly does the blood of Christ, which through the eternal Spirit was offered up by himself, blamelessly to God and cleansing our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Let me close in this way:
- What is the Big Idea? Jesus’ sacrifice is better than that of the High Priests
2) What is the Big Application? You have been redeemed for a purpose: to be freed from your dead works (earthly things that do not last) to live a life of service to your living God.
So, ask yourself, what will your life amount to? How will you be remembered? Will you be remembered for earthly things that do not last or because of being committed to the Word that lasts forever.