The Priest and His Sacrifice
"By His own blood He entered in"
The apostle now takes up the great truths as to the sanctuary of God and the means of access into His presence. That which is to occupy us first is the sanctuary itself, and how Christ has entered in then, in the tenth chapter, we see our privilege and right to enter in also. In other words, what we have in these two chapters is the holy of holies of the epistle — access into the very presence of God, where as priests before His throne we offer our praise and worship. It is a theme which should engage every power of our renewed nature. We can only grasp it in some measure, but should earnestly desire increasingly to lay hold upon its wondrous fulness.
"The first covenant had indeed, then, ordinances of divine service and a world-sanctuary: for there was a tabernacle constructed; the first, wherein were both the candlestick and the table and the show-bread, which is called the holy place; but after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the holy of holies; having a golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein were the golden pot that had the manna, and the rod of Aaron that budded, and the tables of the covenant; and over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat: concerning which it is not now the time to speak in detail."
In these verses the first Tabernacle and its various articles of furniture are briefly described. As they are mentioned we will glance briefly at them, and note their typical significance.
The division of the Tabernacle into two parts is spoken of; in the first, or holy place, was the candlestick and the table of showbread. The candlestick was a seven-branched lampstand made of pure gold. It spoke of the divine glory of Christ, but as One who had come down and revealed Himself to our comprehension, and who now, in resurrection, is the means whereby His people are enlightened. It is the Holy Ghost who enlightens the people of God, but it is through a risen and glorified Saviour. The candlestick, thus, speaks of Christ risen and glorified.
The table, on the other hand, speaks of Christ in the perfection of His human and divine natures, as the One through whom we have communion with God. The life is imparted, but it needs to be sustained, and the table suggests Christ, the food which the people of God enjoy the showbread also reminds us how perfectly His people are presented in Him.
You notice that one article of furniture is omitted here. There is no mention of the incense altar, which stood directly in front of the veil. The reason for this omission is significant: true worship must be really in the presence of God. Unless we are in His presence we cannot be worshipers. In the directions for making the Tabernacle nothing was said of the altar of incense until after provision was made for the induction of Aaron into the priest's office. In other words, there must be a priest before there could be worship. For a similar reason it is not spoken of as being in the outer part of the Tabernacle. But when we come to the holiest of all, the first thing mentioned is the golden censer. That, we might say, is really the altar of incense. It was not the actual piece of furniture, but when Aaron entered into the holiest on the day of atonement he carried this golden censer, and offered incense before God upon it. Thus worship is priestly in character, on the basis of atonement, and in the presence of God; and the very fact that the incense altar is not mentioned as being in the holy place shows these things had not yet been accomplished.
We have next the ark of the covenant, which speaks of the throne of God, also of Christ Himself, who reigns. Its materials also refer to His human and divine glories. Within it was the golden pot of manna. That speaks of Christ who was humbled here to be the food of His people, but who now in resurrection is, as it were, laid up in glory, reserved for them.
There was, also, Aaron's rod that budded, the witness that God had really called him to the priesthood. It was a rod cut off, its life taken away, and then in the presence of God it budded and brought forth fruit; a beautiful figure of how Christ, cut off in death, in resurrection bring-forth much fruit — is thus marked out the true Priest.
The tables of the covenant were also in the ark, — God's holy law enshrined in the only place where it could abide unbroken; that was, in the bosom of Christ Himself. "Thy law is within my heart" was perfectly manifested in His outward life. Then, over all, the cherubim of glory (witnesses of God's righteousness and judgment, which are the foundation of His throne), looking down upon and shadowing the mercy-seat whereon was sprinkled the blood of atonement.
These were the various articles in the Tabernacle, and you see at a glance that we might spend much time in recalling the wondrous fulness they foreshadowed, but, as the apostle says, "of which things we cannot now speak particularly." That is, this is not the place to speak of them fully, but mentions them in order to contrast this earthly sanctuary and its worship with the heavenly place of access which Christ's people now have.
"Now these things being thus ordered, into the first tabernacle the priests enter at all times, accomplishing the services; but into the second the high priest only, once a year, not without blood, which he offereth for himself and for the errors of the people: the Holy Spirit signifying this, that the way into the holy places was not yet made manifest, while the first tabernacle as yet had its standing; which is an image for the present time, according to which are offered both gifts and sacrifices that cannot make him that worshipeth perfect as to the conscience, consisting only of meats and drinks and divers baptisms, — fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of making things right."
Having looked at the furnishing of the tabernacle, we now glance at its service. The whole priestly family went into the first, or holy place, accomplishing the service of God daily. They went in and out, cared for and trimmed the lights upon the candlestick, placed the show-bread upon the table week by week, the fresh witness of Israel's perfect presentation to God. But here their service stopped. Into the second place, the holiest of all, not the priests now, but the high priest only, went once a year, as contrasted with the daily ministrations in the holy place; and he went not without blood, as contrasted with his going into the holy place merely after having washed at the laver in the outer court. The blood is offered, not only for the people, but for himself; and you notice it was for the errors of the people; that is, for their sins of ignorance.
A very important principle is suggested here, one that people are apt to overlook. Under the law the only sins that were provided for were those of ignorance. If a man did aught presumptuously, he was to die without mercy; no sacrifice was provided for that. So, in the nineteenth psalm, David says, "Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins" that is, sins done knowingly. "Who can understand his errors?" There are sins of ignorance. "Cleanse Thou me from hidden faults;" that is, faults of which I know nothing, and yet which are there unquestionably.
But when you come to the fifty-first psalm you find the sin of presumption: there is no question that David knew the awful character of the sin which he was committing. His conscience and heart were hardened for the time, and he went on in that fearful course which ended practically in murder. Then, when he came under the sense of that sin, after God had by the prophet Nathan touched his conscience, he could not plead ignorance, and therefore does not presume to bring an offering. There were trespass- and sin-offerings provided under the law; offerings for the sin too of a ruler, — but he could not bring that. He says, "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it." How could he bring a sacrifice for the very sin for which God declared there was no sacrifice?
And yet, though the law was perfectly helpless to minister comfort or peace to David's soul, he lays hold upon God, and there are the breathings of confidence, the confidence of a restored soul; but it is not on the basis of legal sacrifice. He says, The only sacrifice I can bring is a broken and a crushed heart. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit." Ah, God will not despise that; it is that condition of heart which lays hold of the truth of Christ and His precious work.
Thus, when the high priest entered into the holy of holies once a year, with blood which was offered for his own sins and for the ignorance of the people, in order that God might abide with them, it was the ineffectual sacrifice of the law. It was the suited expression of the day of atonement, and the whole of this part of Hebrews is really an unfolding of the truth which is foreshadowed in the sixteenth of Leviticus.
Let us look a little in detail at these thoughts, and contrast them with Christ's work, as they are in the following scripture. The high priest alone: — "The Holy Ghost this signifying that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was yet standing." There was no real access to God. One solitary individual of all the nation of Israel entered in, once a year, into that which was the figure of the permanent abode of every redeemed child of God now. What a glorious contrast between the distance of the law, and the place where Christ has introduced His people!
The sacrifices under the law could never make a worshiper perfect as to his conscience. Here is a poor Israelite who brings his sacrifice, lays his hands upon it and slays it; he sees the priest take the blood, sprinkle it upon the altar, and burn the victim. He sees the smoke ascend, and the priest says, Your trespass is forgiven. And yet on the day of atonement those trespasses, and all the others, were mentioned over again. He must conclude they were not really forgiven at all. In other words, his conscience was not perfect, he had not yet perfect assurance of acceptance, or forgiveness. And so it was with all the legal ordinances.
The reason was, they were external things, that stood only in meats and drinks and divers washings. An Israelite had to be very careful about what kind of food he ate. The law prescribed as to everything he ate or drank; all had to be clean, or else he was defiled. But these things were all external things — meats, drinks, and divers washings; or, as the word really is (we saw it in the sixth chapter), divers baptisms. There was a washing at the laver, the sprinkling of blood to sanctify the unclean, upon the brazen altar too, sometimes upon the horns of the altar of incense, and once a year upon the mercy-seat. These could not make the conscience perfect, or give real peace; they were carnal, or fleshly, ordinances; having to do with the outward man, with a relationship to God which was purely external. A man might thus be a good Israelite, might be ceremonially clean, and yet be an utter stranger to peace with God or a sense of His love, or access into His holy presence. We are told here these things were laid upon them as a yoke — a yoke, in fact, as Peter says, "which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear" — until the time of reformation: that is, the time when all would be put on a right foundation, a right basis. These things were of a purely temporary character, but full of meaning for us, as types.
These ten verses give us the shadow "of good things to come" in the law, the sanctuary, and its ministry. As to the sanctuary itself, it was an earthly one; as to the ministry, it was a routine of carnal ordinances. The conscience was still left guilty, and the soul was still at a distance from God. Now we come, blessed be God, to that which is a perfect contrast to all this.
"But Christ being come, a high priest of the good things to come, by the better and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, — that is, not of this creation, — neither by the blood of goats and bulls, but by his own blood, he hath entered in once for all into the holy places, having found an eternal redemption."
In these two verses we have the blessed contrast of what Christ is and has done. He is High Priest in contrast with all of Aaron's line — not of Judaism, or carnal ordinances, but of good things to come. We are looking at things from the standpoint of Judaism, you must remember: to a Jew, in the time of the law, the good things were not there. They were yet to come, and were not manifested until Christ's work opened the way into God's presence, into that treasury from which all the riches of His grace are poured out for us. The good things to come are the good things of Christianity, the "perfection" of the sixth chapter, of which Christ is the Minisister, the things which we are now enjoying by faith.
But that does not exhaust the meaning of this expression. These things are also future. We speak of being in the sanctuary as to our nearness and access to God; but actually, as to the body, we are in the wilderness, subject to the changes and trials of the weary way; we ourselves have part in the groaning of the old creation. The good things, in their full manifestation, are yet to come; they have been brought to us by Christ, and the Holy Spirit has made them real to faith but our portion, our good things, are still to come. We have known the blessedness of sins forgiven and peace with God, but there are still good things to come. We have known the grace of Christ, have tested it in many a trying circumstance; He has been with us in the hour of bereavement, in trial, in disappointments; in everything that would try the soul Christ has been sufficient, and His High Priestly sympathy and succor all that we required. But there are more good things to come.
How much the future has before us! This year on which we shall soon enter, if the Lord tarry, what is hidden in its womb for us? We know not what a day may bring forth. But we do know this, that there are good things to come in the future. The good things of Christ will be sufficient for us for the rest of our lives. Look on down the whole vista of your life, till the very last moment when you will be taken out of it into the presence of the Lord, and what is it? Only good things to come all the way through. And then, dear brethren, as faith looks upward, and we think of the glory that is just beyond, where He is, that eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, surely the good things are yet to come that Christ will minister to us. And as the cycles of eternity roll on, we will never, never exhaust the fulness of blessing that the heart of God and the love of Christ have secured for us. And you can write over the portals of heaven itself, GOOD THINGS TO COME. Evermore fresh — no weariness, no dulness; one perennial joy and fresh surprises as we share with our blessed Lord the fruits of what He has won for us.
Contrast with that, for a moment (for some may need just such a word) — contrast those "good things to come," the fruit of redemption, with that awful word of judgment, "wrath to come." You remember John the Baptist said to those who insincerely came out to his baptism, "Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" There is wrath to come. Fortunes may be increased, pleasures may be indulged in, but there is "wrath to come." Years of God's patience, years of mercy despised, of warnings unheeded, are treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath. And when comes the end of time, looking back upon a Christless life, and forward into a Christless eternity, oh awful thought, it is wrath to come! Ah, dear friends, that place of wrath, in the outer darkness, where is the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, is no temporary banishment, no purifying fire; no place from which he will one day emerge a wiser man, ready now to accept the finished work of Christ. Time has closed, the day of grace is eternally past, and throughout eternity, solemn and awful thought, it will be still WRATH TO COME. As you think of it, should it not fill the heart with yearning, with longing for the salvation of souls? Should it not make us instant in season, out of season? Daily we meet men who are going on to the wrath to come, and we are going on to the good things to come. Shall we not, knowing the terror of the Lord, persuade men? Shall we not entreat them, yea, shall we not go out and compel them to come in? Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?
Returning to our Epistle, we see the sanctuary into which Christ has entered, and into which He introduces us, is not an earthly place, nor connected with the old creation.
Beautiful as this world is as we see the works of God, the witnesses of His handiwork and goodness, lovely mountains, seas and rivers, all nature smiling in the springtime, or ripening its stores in autumn, yet we know that it is all the old creation, everything subject to decay, its fairest scenes passing away; there is nothing abiding. It is because of sin, which has marred God's old creation, and therefore it must be all purged with fire, the very works that are therein shall be burned up, and all that we see now shall pass away.
The ministry of Christ is not in connection with this old creation; He has come down into it, and has accomplished redemption here. He has laid hold of a poor, sinful people, to lead them on to glory; He has gone out of the old creation, and entered into the new sphere, in a greater and more perfect tabernacle.
Look at that Tabernacle in the wilderness, which, small as it was, forbad the entrance of any into its sacred precincts. Look at that, and compare it with the heaven of heavens, the eternal glories where Christ ministers for His redeemed. Who shall describe, who shall give the limits of that land of glory? Even the limits of God's earthly inheritance for Israel were never filled out, and who shall describe the boundaries of that land which lies up yonder in eternal glory, with which the new heavens and the new earth are connected? That is the greater and more perfect tabernacle.
Then, as to the way in which He enters in, it is "by His own blood." The blood of goats and calves, offered under the law, could never take away sin. So Christ has not entered by the blood of such sacrifices into the presence of God, mere temporary expedients which could never glorify Him, but "by His own blood he entered in."
Let us dwell upon that for a moment, familiar truth as it is. You find constantly in this Epistle the mention of the blood of Christ. The life is in the blood and the reason why it is so constantly spoken of is because the blood shed means the life given up under the judgment of God. Righteousness demanded the judgment of sin. It was a thing which God Himself could not waive, though He might pass over for a time the sins of His people in view of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Yet if He forgave David's sin, it was on the basis of something which He foresaw would fully glorify Him. David might lay hold upon God's mercy. Abraham, and others, could lay hold by faith upon that mercy. But for every sin that God forgave in the past dispensation, He had His eye upon the precious blood of Christ, the sufficient atoning Sacrifice which would vindicate His righteousness. Therefore, when we speak of the blood of Christ, it is understood that we mean Christ's sacrifice under the wrath of God, bearing judgment for sin.
Looking back again to the sixteenth of Leviticus, you find the high priest clothed in white, answering to the spotless purity of Christ, "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners." The priest entered into the sanctuary with the cloud of incense, with the blood in the basin, and going before the throne of God, the mercy-seat, he sprinkled of the blood upon it, and seven times before it. That was the type, the shadow. Christ by His own blood has entered in, — we do not mean, of course, nor does Scripture say, He entered in with His blood. The type was but a shadow, to make plain to our comprehension what our blessed Lord did in His priestly work. He entered in by virtue of His blood the blood was shed, the work was finished upon Calvary and the Sacrifice accepted God giving proof of it in rending the veil and raising Him from the dead. Christ is passed into heaven, He has gone into the presence of God, and we know that, it is by His own blood that He entered there. He might have entered heaven at any moment during His perfect life here, but He would have gone alone, as He came alone there would not have been a single one to share His glory with Him. But He has not entered heaven in that way. He has entered by, or in virtue of, His blood — not by His perfect character, not by His keeping the law of God, not by His personal worthiness even but He has entered by His blood, after having accomplished redemption: and because of that work He is there before God.
That brings us to the expression "having obtained (or found) eternal redemption." But where had He to go to find it? He had to go to the cross. It meant that He had to shed His blood, to give up His life, in order to get redemption for us. Look at that expression, "eternal redemption," as contrasted with everything they had before. The high priest might say when he took the censer in his hand on the day of atonement, "I have a redemption here that will last for a whole year. O Israelites, if ye are only faithful, I have here the assurance that God will remain among us in His Tabernacle for one whole year I have remembered and made atonement for your sins since you left Egypt to the present time." But some one might say, "Did you not put them away last year, and the years before that? Did you not make mention of these sins?" In contrast with that we have the glorious entrance of our blessed High Priest He has entered in once, into heaven itself. He has found a redemption that seals our relationship with God forever! — not for a year, nor conditional upon our good behaviour. Who would dare to have his relationship with God dependent upon his good behavior? What may we not do during the coming year, save as we abide in self-distrust in the presence of our blessed Lord? But, dear brethren, as we look forward, not for the next year merely, but our whole earthly life, whatever may come in, whatever power of Satan may be manifest, whatever the needs of the way, there is a redemption which He has found which is eternal in its efficacy, which can never lose its power, upon which we rest now, upon which we will rest as we pass from earth into glory, and in eternity itself.
"For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the defiled, sanctifieth for the purity of the flesh, how much rather shall the blood of Christ, who by the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purify your conscience from dead works to worship the living God? And for this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, they which have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance."
We have here not only a general reference to all the Levitical sacrifices, but a special reference to the day of atonement, when a bullock was offered for the sins of the priest and his house, and a goat for the sins of the people, and the blood of both was sprinkled upon the mercy-seat.
The ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean reminds us of the service spoken of in the book of Numbers, in the nineteenth chapter — the provision against defilements by the way. The heifer was offered without blemish, the hands of the priest laid upon it, it was slain, and completely burnt. Its ashes were laid up in a clean place outside the camp, and whenever an Israelite was unclean by reason of any defilement that had come upon him, — contact with the dead, or anything of that sort, — the priest was to take the ashes of the heifer and mingle them with water, and sprinkle the unclean on the third and seventh days. He would then be restored to outward communion with the people of God. That is, it availed for the purifying of the flesh. This had to do, not with access to God, but with communion, as you might say. It was wilderness provision, just as there was sanctuary provision.
And so we have the two extremes of the Levitical provision — the best that it could do as to bringing to God, and the best that it could do for maintaining communion. They typify the two great sides of redemption — the work of Christ for us before God, and, as our Advocate, keep ing us in communion with God by His Word and Spirit here.
But how utterly ineffectual they were! As to the presence of God, we have been already looking at the sprinkling of blood upon the mercy-seat, which was only the witness that God could endure, tolerate His people for another year and as to the ashes of the heifer sprinkling the unclean, what did it effect? What was the defilement? It was an external defilement he had touched a dead body. Is there anything in that which could defile, save in a ceremonial or typical way? But when there is genuine defilement of soul, that which unfits for communion with God — as any disobedience would — could the ashes of a heifer sprinkling the unclean really purify and fit for the enjoyment of communion? Suppose you fall into any defilement of soul through contact with anything in this chamber of death (this world where we are living) and the ashes of a heifer be sprinkled upon you, what effect could it possibly have? Absolutely none. So the law, with all its intricate provisions, — beautiful when you translate them into the language of grace, — is utterly unfit to satisfy, save for the purifying of the flesh.
But now, he says, if this twofold cleansing did satisfy in that external way, how much more shall the blood of Christ? The Spirit of God puts against all these sacrifices that one solitary, finished, perfect work. Does one ask, What is the basis of our relationship with God? The answer is, The blood of Christ. You may have fallen into defilement, you may have, alas, dishonored our blessed Lord in daily life, you may have grieved His Spirit, you may have grieved His people. You may have contracted that defilement which necessitates that you be shut outside the camp, outside the company of the people of God but oh, the blood of Christ, has it not given peace, and glorified God in your redemption? It is also the pledge that God will yet recover to communion with Himself. That blessed, precious Sacrifice is the basis upon which all communion is maintained, and the pledge of the restoration of the wandering sheep who has been away from the Lord. This is typified in the ashes of the heifer.
It was through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered Himself without spot to God. He was born of the Spirit, His whole life here was under the power of the Spirit The Spirit came upon Him at His baptism, and led Him on through His whole earthly ministry, on to the cross. It was thus through the eternal Spirit that Christ offered Himself without spot to God. And you can think of Him in His life here as being conducted by the blessed Spirit throughout all its varied phases, ever on to Calvary, and there, as we see Him upon the cross, offering up His life as the spotless Lamb of God, it was under the perfect guidance and power of the eternal Spirit.
How that word again reminds us of the efficacy of it all! He has found eternal redemption because He offered Himself through the eternal Spirit. It was no evanescent work, but an eternal work. The stamp of the whole Trinity is upon it: the Father gave the Son, the Son gave Himself, and the Holy Spirit led Him in this self-sacrifice; so Father, Son and Spirit are one in this work of redemption. Put alongside of that all the ritualism of the law, all the self-righteousness of man, and what a mass of rubbish! By that precious work the conscience is purged from dead works. Dead works are those done by a man who has no divine life, no true relationship with God. They are done under the law. The apostle does not say sinful works merely; it is dead works, whatever they may have been. They may have been mere ritual performances, or acts of philanthropy, outwardly blameless, amiable works. There may be much that is commendable in the eye of man, yet God may write "dead works" upon it all. A man might give all his goods to feed the poor, yea more, does not the apostle say he might give his body to be burned? but if there is no love in his soul, no life, everything that he does is dead — dead works. What then can purge the conscience from these?
I am sure you will agree with me when I say that the conscience divinely awakened is not only troubled about sins which it has committed, which the world calls sins, but by the iniquity of its holy things as well; a divinely awakened conscience is convicted in the best that we have ever done — it is all stained with self-will and pride. We realize that we need to be purged from those things just as truly as from those outward sins in our lives that were contrary to God's outward laws. The blood of Christ purges the conscience from all sin. A purged conscience! A conscience that can tesify to our acceptance in the holy light of God's own presence, illumined by His truth! A conscience that says, The precious blood of Christ has made me clean every whit! A conscience that gives us right to say, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? "
Does Satan know anything against us? Ah, that adversary knows our whole life; but can he lay anything to our charge? Can we lay anything to our own charge? Let memory do its work, let the whole life be brought up, and as you look at it all you say, "The precious blood of Christ has purged my conscience from all sin."
"How bright, there above, is the mercy of God!
And void of all guilt, and clear of all sin,
Is my conscience and heart through my Saviour's blood —
Not a cloud above — not a spot within."
How precious this blood of Christ which has purged the conscience so perfectly, and by which God Himself can find nothing against His people! "It is God that justifieth — who is he that condemneth?"
But if our consciences have been purged from dead works, does it mean now that we are to be careless, indifferent, unconcerned? Does it mean that one who has a purged conscience will think lightly of sin? Far be the thought. The man who thinks lightly of sin, thinks lightly of the blood of Christ. The man who trifles with sin, trifles with that which has put the sin away. No, we are purged from all our dead works in order that, in blessed contrast, we might serve the living and true God. Christ has introduced us into the presence of that living God, and our service is to Him now. It does not speak directly of the works of righteousness, or of the fruits of the divine life, but it suggests the blessed fact that we are now under the eye of God. As the living God, we realize that He must rule in heart and conscience and life.
This service is of a twofold kind, as is mentioned in the last chapter of our Epistle. There we are told that we are to offer continually the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of the lips confessing His name: and with that we are to do good and to communicate, "for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." The word for serving, in the original, includes both these thoughts; it is priestly service, both within the veil and out in the world. As a holy priesthood before God, and as royal priests outside before the world, we serve the living God.
Christ our Lord is the Mediator of this new covenant. The first covenant, the law, could only condemn; but He by means of His death has redeemed us from the curse of the law: now those who are called have received the promise of an eternal inheritance.
Thus we have been speaking of an eternal redemption, and of the eternal Spirit, through whom our Lord offered Himself spotless to God, and the result of it all is an eternal inheritance; and by the gospel of His grace we enjoy these eternal blessings.