Summary of the Text
In the movie Apollo 13 (1995) we are led through the dramatic mission that was supposed to result in a lunar landing but instead became an epic struggle for the survival and return of the crew. After the main spacecraft suffered a catastrophic loss of Oxygen stores, the lunar module became the “life boat” for the crew. One of the pressing problems was that the carbon dioxide filters in the lunar module would soon run out of capacity.
Unbelievably, the carbon dioxide filters in the main spacecraft were square, while the ones in the lunar module were cylindrical. A team of engineers composed a complicated and detailed fix, from limited materials, to fit the square peg into the round hole. The resulting “adapter” was effective but nothing that anyone would ever use again. It served an essential purpose for a particular mission but after the mission was complete, it would only have historical value.
The sacrificial system had been the complicated fix for human sin. Jesus Christ, High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, fulfilled and superseded that system with a sacrifice that would give him direct access to the hearts of his children. Now that Jesus Christ is here, no one should want to go back and attempt to reconstruct a means of salvation that was only intended to be a temporary solution to the persistent problem of human sin.
In the mind of the Jewish faithful, it must have seemed like God was going backwards instead of forwards. He had brought Abram out of his homeland and into Canaan but caused him to be a nomad with little to call his own in the new land the Lord brought him into. He was promised land and descendants but they would come in the Lord’s timing. God moved his people from country to country and from the tabernacle, to the Temple, to synagogue (during the exile) and back to the reconstructed Temple.
The first century Jew saw the completion of Herod’s Temple as one of the major signs that God was ready to do something big for them. God was fortifying their place in history and giving himself the edifice he deserved to win the respect of the nations. How shocking it was that he would send a Messiah who would himself become the point of access to the Father rendering this beautiful temple unnecessary. What a gift the book of Hebrews is to those Jewish faithful who so needed to have their love of the temple and its systems transitioned into a love of Jesus and his eternal priesthood. Soon, each believer would understand that the physical structures and procedures of Mosaic worship were far inferior to the new age of faith that was already initiated by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
The message of Hebrews continues to intensify and to lead the reader down a path of awe and faith in our Lord Jesus. Soon chapter 11 will show just how important faith is, and how it has always been at the center of a relationship with God. If the Jewish reader falls in love with the person of Jesus, and is convinced both in their mind and in their heart of his holiness and priesthood, then they will not seek to return to their old ways. John Calvin captures it powerfully: “He who believes that the things then shadowed forth under the Law have been really found in Christ, will no longer cleave to the shadows…” (Calvin’s Commentaries – Hebrews 9:11).
We long for the past when we are unconvinced of the future. The Jewish exiles from Egypt were constantly longing to return to Egypt where they sat around “pots of meat” and enjoyed their homes. In the midst of struggle, they glorified their past experiences and viewed them as an escape from their current reality. The people did not believe that God would do what he claimed he would do, and longed for the problems of the past rather than the hope of the future.
Christian musician and singer Sara Groves sings the song Painting Pictures of Egypt (2001) and ponders deeply her own hesitation to move forward with God’s plans for her. She compares her life to the wilderness wanderers saying: “I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, Leaving out what it lacks, The future feels so hard And I want to go back.” Longing for an imperfect past is natural for us. Leaning into the promises of Christ is the way of faith and our gateway to true joy and peace.
The priesthood of Jesus Christ was nothing less than the powerful new reality that God was inviting all of his children to enter into. The Jewish reader understood very deeply how important purity was to God and our ability to interact with him. When the reality of a greater purification comes into play, and therefore a closer relationship with God, the choice becomes obvious.
The quest for a better detergent and improved “stain fighting power” in the consumer product industry is also a good illustration. If one brand of detergent is better at removing stains, and costs less, why would you go back to the more costly and less effective system?
This passage makes the argument that the old system cleansed on the outside, while the sacrifice of Jesus cleanses the inside, he is the only one who can cleanse the conscience from the acts that lead to death! (Verse 14) Furthermore, this cleansing is the gateway to service. Without the cleansing of Jesus, we are unable to serve the living God with faithfulness.
I. (Verse 11) The Covenant of Grace through Christ is already here – This is not a teaching about tomorrow, it is a teaching about today.
II. (Verse 11b) Jesus did not need to access holiness through the temple because he had access to the Most Holy Place in Heaven – Therefore if Jesus did not need to utilize an earthly Tabernacle/Temple then the reader can begin to realize that they do not need one either.
III. (Verse 12) Jesus did not need the place and he did not need the sacrifice – The shedding of his own perfect blood would be his price of admission into glory. Let the reader also be intrigued; if Jesus could get access to the Father without the blood of goats and calves might they do the same?
IV. (Verse 13) The practices of the law result in external cleansing – The past means of grace were limited in their power.
V. (Verse 14) The blood of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, cleanses the inside – True transformation comes when we allow Jesus into our hearts. It is here that he can cleanse our conscience and retrain our hearts towards serving the living God.
The heart of the author of Hebrews and the goal of this continuing narrative is to allow the reader to fall into a relationship of love and respect for Jesus as their High Priest. The proper fulfillment of the greatest commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your soul, strength and mind is now only able to be completed in Christ.
One of the late Billy Graham’s favorite preaching verses was Hebrews 9:22 – “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Christ’s blood was shed for you. His sacrifice is far better than anything under the law of Moses and it is to the envy of our ancestors that we have such lavish access to the Holy Spirit and the love that comes through Jesus Christ (Matthew 13:17). Just as the temple was only effective for those who participated in that system, so the sacrifice of Jesus is only effective for those who honor him.
Our God is unchanging, but he has placed us in time and space and therefore we must always be adapting to the circumstances around us. We must not be in love with the ways of the past but pursue God in the present. We are lovers of his Word and his sacrifice; they are the rallying point of the church. God is bringing us to his preferred future and that future ultimately will be in the very presence of God upon his glorious return!
Justin Amsler is the pastor of McDonald Presbyterian church in Western Pennsylvania. His passion lies in helping people come into a closer relationship with Jesus Christ by engaging the Scriptures in a way that everyone can relate to. His degrees include a Bachelor of Science from Grove City College, a Master of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and he is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Ministry program. He is blessed by his wife Sarah and four children: Julia, Jonah, Selah, and Silas.
My soul is like a house, small for you to enter, but I pray you to enlarge it. It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it. It contains much that you will not be pleased to see: this I know and do not hide. But who is to rid it of these things? There is no one but you.”
Warning: The Old Is No Longer Working
Earlier this year we were attempting to set up an older computer to play videos for one of our Children’s ministries and received this warning: “As of January 14, 2020 support for Windows 7 has come to an end. Your PC is more vulnerable to viruses and malware due to: no security updates, no software updates, and no tech support.” The warning continued by “strongly recommending” us to acquire a new PC and to upgrade to Windows 10.
Hebrews chapter 9 continues to make the argument that the Law that came through Moses is an outdated covenant. It was never intended to be a permanent covenant. It was meant to function only up to the point when the Messiah would come (Hebrews 9:10). Jesus has come and therefore God calls all of us to get on board with the new system. The old system was riddled with problems and is no longer supported, something far better has arrived!