Christ: The Hope of a Clear Conscience
“Christ: The Hope of a Clear Conscience”
Have you ever heard of Marie Curie? Marie grew up in Poland in the late 1800’s and went to study in Paris. She eventually became well known for her groundbreaking work in physics and chemistry. She is the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and the first person and only woman to receive the Nobel Prize twice. She received her first nobel prize in 1903 in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But perhaps she is best known for her discovery of radioactivity. In those days, higher education was limited for women and it was while she was a student in Paris she wrote concerning her ability to study in her field, “It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.”
Like Marie, the recipients of the Epistle to the Hebrews have had their eyes opened to a new world. A world that Christ Himself ushered in, one where the old had past and everything seemed to become clear similar to the way that the scales had fallen away from the Apostle Paul’s eyes years earlier. They were beginning to understand why they could endure as Christians and not return to the old covenant. In our passage today the author of Hebrews continues to compare and contrast the old covenant and the new. In doing so, he primarily focuses on the inability of the first covenant to ring about a clear conscience, but Christ being able to do just that. Let’s look at our passage focuses on 2 points:
- The Tabernacle and its Ministry (9:1-10)
- Christ and His Ministry (9:11-14)
The Tabernacle and its Ministry (9:1-10)
“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness.”
The tabernacle or in Hebrew “Mishkan” meant “dwelling place”. It was the place where God would meet His people. We could quickly move on from this but I find it important to camp out here (no pun intended) to understand the great separation that sin causes between a Holy God and man. This is the whole picture that the author of Hebrews is painting for us. These regulations for the tabernacle was to reveal their desperate need for God and His mercy lest they be consumed! Sometimes I think we shelter people falsely in this day and age from the weightiness of conversations on hell. It is a dreadful place. A place of torment, a place absent from the face of God. Could it be that there is a connection between a proper understanding of the wrath of God against sin and the all to common apathetic attitude towards sin in the Church of Christ? Well, the Israelites were reminded daily of their sin as this tent called the tabernacle sat at the center of their camp and as the author of Hebrews will show us, this was to point on to Christ. He now takes us on a quick tour of the inside of the tabernacle. But notice the end of verse 5: “Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” The author of Hebrews did not want to spend long on the details of the tabernacle mainly because the point of his epistle was to make the point of Christ supremacy in all things, but also because they were Jews and had a good understanding of these things already. I think for us Gentiles however, it is important to look at these things, so let’s look at least at what the Holy Spirit reveals here through the author.
Look at verse 2 :
I have put up a slide for our understanding of what the layout of the tabernacle was like and why. The first section (vs. 2) contains the lamp stand and the table and bread of the presence. The lampstand was made of solid gold, with three branches springing from either side and each of its seven branches supporting a flower shaped lampholder. (Exodus 25:31; 37:17) This was the only light in the Holy Place. As we mentioned last week, Christ revealed Himself as the light of the world and that His people would shine as the light of the world as well. (Matt. 5:14-16; John 1:4, 5; 8:12)
The table mentioned here sometimes called the table of showbread or the table of the bread of the presence was a place for the consecrated bread. It contained 12 loaves of bread for the 12 tribes of Israel. This speaks of course of Christ being the sustenance of His people and ultimately fulfilled in Christ as the bread of life. (John 6:53ff)
Next the second section mentioned in verse 3, speaks of the Most Holy Place behind the veil. In verse 4 it speaks of the contents therein. Let’s read it: “Behind
the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. 5 Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.”
Now it is interesting to note that the altar of incense is mentioned here as being in the Most Holy Place whereas it was described as being in the Holy Place in the Old Testament. (Ex.30:6-8) It would have had to be outside the veil since regular priestly duties occurred there. Leon Morris explains, “The author had in mind the intimate connection of the incense altar with the Most Holy Place. So it ‘belonged to the inner sanctuary’ (1 Kings 6:22), as is shown by its situation ‘in front of the curtain that is before the ark of testimony– before the atonement cover(mercy-seat) that is over the Testimony (Ex. 30:6) Further, John MacArthur notes: “Though it was outside the Holy Place (Ex. 30:6), the writer of Hebrews pictures the golden altar inside the Most Holy place because uppermost in his mind is its role in the liturgy of the Day of Atonement. On that day, the High Priest brought incense from that altar into the Most Holy Place (Lev. 16:12,13). The altar of golden incense marked the boundary of the Holy of Holies as well as the curtain.”
The description here in Hebrews aids us to see how Christ ultimately replaced the tabernacle and its regulations for worship. The Holy One replaces the Holy Place.
Now, inside the Most Holy Place, the golden altar of incense representing acceptable prayer to God, The Ark of the covenant representing God’s covenant with His people as the Ark mainly contained the 10 commandments, then manna (God’s Provision) Aaron’s staff (his leadership). All of these as the author shows us, was pointing to the heavenly realities. Now let’s look at verse 6:
6 These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 7 but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing 9 (which is symbolic for the present age).4 According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
The priests would do these regular duties in the Holy Place but only the High Priest as mentioned here would go into the Most Holy Place. Notice he offered sacrifice for the unintentional sins. Whether we sin intentionally or we are deceived, our sin needs atoning for. Here in verse 8 the author reveals that the Holy Spirit indicates that there is a separation between sinful man and a holy God. Of course the Gospel writers make it clear that the temple veil was torn in two. A very thick veil that only God could tear notice from the top down. “It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, pinto your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this, he breathed his last.”
Can you imagine the awe and great fear that the priests that day had! Was God going to pound them ripping through veil? Little did they know that God’s wrath most definitely had been poured out, but on His Son. At the end of verse 8 it speaks of “the first section still standing was symbolic of the present age.”That is, a way had not been made until Christ came. Man was separated from God but has drawn us near in Christ. With the accomplishment of Christ in His death and resurrection a new and living way is opened for us all.
Now, at the end of verse 9 here I do not want us to miss this: “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings,regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.
This old system could not perfect the conscience of the worshipper. As with verse 10 the true need of man is to have a clean conscience not just external rites and washings. But ,the One who could make a way by tearing the veil in two through His own death, can also grant a clear conscience which leads us to our second point:
Christ and His Ministry (9:11-14)
Let’s read verse 11-14 again: 11 “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” So, Christ through His flesh became a more perfect tent. But how? Well verse 12 tells us. He went in the Holy Place once and for all. There is no longer a need for the sacrificial system! So as we look at the tabernacle we can see in either direction how Christ fulfilled what the tabernacle pointed to and represented. Have you ever considered how to share the Gospel using the tabernacle? If we start in the Holy of Holies, in the presence of God we know that is where Christ was in eternity past with the Father, he was sent being veiled in flesh and being the answer to the prayers of His people. He was the light of the world (lampstand), the bread of life (table of showbread), He eventually was sacrificed for our sin (bronze altar) and His blood cleansing us from our sins (the bronze laver) and it is made available to the people camped outside. If you go through the other way, you start where the Israelities would have as humans caught in their sin and depravity. Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us, he was baptized and set apart for His saving work (Bronze laver), He was crucified for sin shedding his blood (Bronze altar) therefore becoming a light to the world (lampstand) and becoming the bread of life to all who would partake of Him (table of Showbread), he as our High Priest offers prayers to us continually in God’s presence (altar of incense) and by His blood went behind the veil for us becoming a propitiation for our sins (mercy seat on the Ark) fulfilling God’s commands (10 commandments) becoming our daily sustenance (manna) and leading us faithfully into God’s presence (Aaron’s Rod) and now He sits at God’s right hand serving continually as our faithful High Priest.
It is not just that the Holy Place is replaced by the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ but what did this replacement produce? The contrast of verse 9 and 14 is the main crux and answer to this question. The Old Covenant with all it rituals and regulations could not clear the conscience of the worshipper! But Christ as our High Priest could not only usher in a New Covenant by His own blood, but His sacrifice and service brings a clear conscience. Paul makes the connection in Romans that this is not just for the Jew but for the Gentile as well. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16)
“To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” Titus 1:15
The author of Hebrews speaks to what Christ accomplished with these truths in mind:
Hebrews 9:14 – “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Even baptism as we observed today testifies to this very truth!
Hebrews 10:22 – “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
1 Peter 3:21-22 – “Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.
What glorious truths we have been reminded of today, but verse 14 says that the purifying of the human conscience is not the end, but that it enables us to “serve the living God”.
What glorious news that we are saved from our sin and we are renewed, born again to a living hope! But, that enables us and restores us to do that which God has intended all along. That we would glorify Him and enjoy Him. How are we then to serve Him? The author will unpack these later in His epistle but I want to focus briefly on a few things.
For those who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation, a clear conscience before God will produce fruit of service in three ways:
- Your relationship with God will grow.
A sinner who has truly repented is not afraid of God, but rather loves Him. He no longer feels a distance and separation but is in fact in relationship with God. Relationships even humanly speaking must be worked on, cultivated, endure hardship etc. and even our relationship with God is like that. You may say, “well it is hard to hear Him.” Well, are you reading His Word? That is how He speaks by His Holy Spirit to you. Don’t wait till Sunday, hear Him by daily digging into His love letter for you. Are your priorities aligned with His?
- Your relationship with sin will change.
In the context of this passage, a pure conscience before God is golden. I encourage and exhort you to confess and forsake your sin. All of us know that this is a daily battle, but what habits have formed in your life, what sin remains to be exposed and shined on by the power of the Holy Spirit? What are you doing to deal with sin and not play around with it as it steals your joy day after day? Not just sins of commission, but sins of omission as well. Christ’s plans to continue the progress of redemption lies right here in this room. You. We would all nod our heads in agreement to say that Christ is the only hope for our sinful and depraved world. How shall they hear without a preacher? A brother recently noticed in my sermons that I often mention the nations, sometimes even when the application is not in the text, but as in this passage we looked at today it is in every text! The Gospel is there and we are called to go and take it to those who have never heard!…. Why do we wait for someone else to do it, even another generation? It may be While it may be a stereotype, we do tend to sit around waiting on the second coming while others have not heard about His first coming! That was 2,000 years ago! How are we to hasten is coming? By taking this message to the nations. Let it not be said of our generation that we did not aid God’s global mission. I do not apologize for mentioning the great need of our world because one of the greatest sins on the evangelical church in our generation is the failure to go! Even by generous statistics most missiologists say that of the 7 billion people in our world only 5 billion have ever heard of Jesus. 70,000+ people die everyday in the unreached world without Jesus. Of foreign mission funding: 87% goes for work among those already Christian. 12% for work among already evangelized, but Non-Christian. 1% for work among the unevangelized and unreached people.
Sure, He doesn’t call all to go, but we ought to be sending more into the harvest! We worry more about ourselves and our equity when eternity ought to be on our mind. Is not missionary work the calling of His church by which we can serve Him with a clear conscience?
So our relationship with sin must change if we are a believer. If you do not know Christ this morning you know what it is like to have an unclear conscience. It torments you everyday. Its fruits are horrible and you know it. Sure, you may be hiding, but ultimately God makes all things known. The Gospel is for you this morning. You can be free from your sin and depravity if only you would look unto Jesus, repent and forsake your sin and follow Him.
- Your Relationship with Christ’s People (The Church will change)
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Do you compartmentalize your relationship with Christ’s bride? Do you with a clear conscience fulfill the “one anothers” of the New Testament? Do you stand on the edge not joining with God’s people, not identifying to closely because you might get your hands dirty? God calls us to love the church in this way. We will look more at this in Chapter 10.
In closing, the first covenant could not bring a clear conscience, but Christ did. For these Hebrew Christians it was like the words of Marie Curie “It was like a new world opened to me … which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.” They could trust Christ that He was their High Priest with a better ministry of a better covenant and He Himself would deliver them. He can do the same for you and me. Let’s pray.
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