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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Cleansed to Serve
Text:Hebrews 8:13-9:14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal

306 – O Praise Ye the Lord

20 - When, O Lord, with Thee Abiding

309 - Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

379 – Lord Jesus, I Long to Be Perfectly Whole

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

“Cleansed to Serve”
Hebrews 8:13-9:14
The Old Testament is a closed book for many people. Even to many professing Christians, the Old Testament seems too difficult and it is passed over, seemingly a neglected Testament that only applied to people long ago. That is understandable for those in the world, but less understandable for those who profess to believe in Jesus because “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…” (2 Tim. 3:16). And, as Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46)   
In a sense, the Hebrews in the first century had just the opposite perception. They understood the old covenant with its laws recorded in the Old Testament. But now they were being taught about a new covenant. Instead of an earthly tabernacle, they were told of a heavenly one; instead of a series of many Levitical priests, they were being told about one eternal high priest. And they were being told that the old covenant was passing away and a new covenant – a “new order” or “reformation” (10, ESV) was inaugurated.
The key to understanding the Old Testament, for them and for us, is to see it through the lens of the cross of Calvary. Just as a scope on a rifle has cross hairs to make the target clear, so also the cross serves as the lens on the scope which enables us to focus on the Old Testament and glean spiritual riches from it. As Paul told the Corinthians, in 2 Corinthians 3:14, “To this day the veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away.”
We have a striking example of that truth in the passage that is before us. The first ten verses describe how the ceremonial law of the Old Testament focused on Christ. Those verses describe the Old Testament tabernacle which God instructed Moses to build according to the precise plans that God gave him.
The Old Testament tabernacle had two rooms, known as the holy place and the Most Holy Place (literally, Holy of Holies). In the holy place there was the lampstand which gave light. It points to Jesus, who is the light of the world. In the holy place was also a table with loaves of consecrated bread, which represents Jesus Christ who is the bread of life.
A massive curtain separated the holy place from a second smaller room known as the Most Holy Place. The ark of the covenant was the focal point of that Most Holy Place, literally “the Holy of Holies”.  It was a box almost four feet long, two and a quarter feet deep, and two and a quarter feet wide. On the top of the ark were two cherubim with outstretched wings. It was there – between the outreached wings of the cherubim – that the Lord symbolically dwelt.
Verse 4 tells us that inside the ark of the covenant was a jar of manna, representing bread from heaven. Inside the ark of the covenant was also Aaron's staff that had budded. That was a great miracle but it pointed ahead to a far greater miracle worker, Christ Jesus. And in the ark of the covenant were also the two tablets of the law, which are a symbol of our sin as the law reveals sin to us. But also the law points us to the only One who perfectly kept the law and imputes his righteousness to those who believe in him, for the law – as the Holy Spirit convicts us – is a tutor leading us to Christ (Gal. 3:24).
As such, the ark of the covenant portrays for us three crucial truths: One is the glory of God as he is symbolically portrayed between the outstretched wings of the cherubim. In his glory, holiness, and perfection, God cannot look at sin without a proper and righteous wrath against it.
The second truth that is portrayed by the ark of the covenant, is your sin and mine. For within the ark of the covenant are the two tablets of God's law. And we are law breakers, guilty of breaking every law that God has given, if not externally then in the thoughts of our minds and motives and attitudes of our hearts.
And then the third truth that is portrayed by the ark of the covenant is the cleansing power of God's redeeming grace. The tablets of the law, Aaron's rod that had budded, and a jar of manna, were underneath (or perhaps in front of) what was called the atonement cover (NIV) or mercy seat (ESV).
The Greek noun translated in the NIV as “atonement cover” (Exo. 26:34, Septuagint) and many other versions as “mercy seat”, is a word that means “a covering.” Specifically, it refers to propitiation, which is the covering of our sins by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Only when our sins are covered by Christ – propitiated – can we be forgiven. The covering of our sin by the blood of Christ appeases the righteous and proper wrath of our triune God against our sinfulness.  
Without sacrificial blood on the mercy seat, God would see the two tablets of the law and know that his people have broken each one of them in more ways than we could ever count. He would see that we deserve eternal condemnation as judgment for our sin. But the blood of the sacrifice sprinkled on the atonement cover – the mercy seat – appeases the righteous and proper wrath of God against sin. Instead of seeing our innumerable failures to obey God’s law, he sees the blood of the sacrifice and his righteous and proper wrath against sin appeased; it is propitiated.
While the priests went regularly into the outer room, only the high priest would enter the inner room – the Most Holy Place, the “holy of holies” – and that only once per year on the Day of Atonement. As verse 7 points out, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.”
But the blood of sacrificial animals could never cover your sins or mine. To enable us to enter the Most Holy Place of heaven, Christ had to offer himself as the only acceptable sacrifice – the only propitiation – for sinners.
The tabernacle and its furnishings, along with the sacrifices that were made by the high priest, were all pointing to Jesus Christ. But if you don't see the Old Testament through the lens of the cross, it remains a closed book. It only has meaning when we see it through the cross hairs – the lens – of the cross.
Christ and the Heavenly Tabernacle
In verse 11 there is a contrast between the Old Testament and the New, a contrast between the old tabernacle, which was made by men according to God’s design, and the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, which is a reference to heaven. Verse 11: “When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.”
However, just as there were specific steps that the Old Testament high priest had to take on the Day of Atonement when he entered the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle to offer the sacrifice there, so too, there were specific steps that the eternal Christ had to take as he entered the Most Holy Place of heaven on our behalf so that we too can enter where he has already gone.
One requirement was the shedding of his blood as described in verse 12: “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves (as priests under the old covenant did); but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood…” And verse 12 tells us he did so on our behalf; he did so “having obtained eternal redemption.”
As Jesus offered himself, shedding his blood on the cross of Calvary, he did so by the strength of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of God the Father. We see that in the second part of verse 14 where it describes how Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God…”
That phrase within verse 14 teaches us that the sacrifice of the Son was in complete harmony with the work of the Holy Spirit and the will of God the Father. The Father had willingly given his Son, and his Son was blessed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Our triune God – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – work in complete harmony to bring about our redemption.
That harmony was already evident before the world began in what we know as the Council of Redemption.  In that Covenant, God the Father planned out salvation for his people long before Adam was formed from the dust of the ground, and long before Adam plunged all humanity into sin. There in the depths of eternity, in the Council of Redemption, Christ willingly offered himself as the only sacrifice for the salvation of sinners. And the Holy Spirit willingly offered himself as the One who would give spiritual birth to all those whom God by his grace would redeem.
2 Timothy 1:9-10 sums up the Council of Redemption beautifully as it describes how God, “has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Another requirement that Christ met to bring those who have saving faith in him into the Most Holy Place of heaven, is that he had to live an unblemished life.  Verse 14 describes how he “offered himself unblemished to God…”
Blemishes are something that we accept in life and even portray as being of value. We bought a cutting board as a gift. On the one side is an attractive drawing along with a catchy phrase, but when you flip it over, there is a blemish on the backside of the cutting board. The manufacturer says, that's normal; wood has blemishes and it adds to its character. The same is true for some boots my wife bought. They are nice boots but they come with a disclaimer that the leather has blemishes, and according to the boot maker, that's normal and actually enhances the look of the boots.
But Jesus offered himself to his heavenly Father without any blemish. He did not go to the Father and say, “I kept every jot and every tittle – every iota – of the law, except for that one time when I lost my temper at the Pharisees when they really made me angry.”  Even in his anger, Jesus did not sin and was unblemished. Peter quoted from Isaiah 53:9 to drive that point home. 1 Peter 2:22-23: “‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”
The unblemished and blameless character of Christ was foretold not only by Isaiah, but by the other writers of the Old Testament. For instance, at the Feast of the Passover each Israelite family needed to sacrifice a Passover lamb “without spot or blemish” (Exo. 12:5). That yearly sacrifice pointed to the unblemished perfection of Christ who is our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7b).
He did not approach the Father, saying, “I kept nine out of ten of the commandments that you gave to Moses on Mount Sinai.” No, he offered himself unblemished and with perfect obedience to every commandment, even though he was truly human, and even though he lived in a world that was filled with land mines of temptation, brought on intensely by the devil who took every opportunity to blemish our sinless Savior.
And the significance of that is, that having covered our sins with his precious blood, Christ imputes – credits us – with his unblemished life. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ with true saving faith, then not only are your sins covered, but in their place the Father sees the unblemished life of the eternal Christ. It is only because of the work of Christ Jesus in shedding his blood, in fulfilling the will of his Father by the Spirit's power, and by living an unblemished life that we enter into the Most Holy Place of heaven.
Do you remember how Jesus answered Thomas when Thomas asked, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Most of you know the answer that Jesus gave, in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  In the words of Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”
The truth that Jesus is the only way into the Most Holy Place of heaven was dramatically portrayed when Jesus was crucified. As Jesus breathed his last breath, the veil in the temple, which separated the Most Holy Place – the Holy of Holies – from the holy place of the temple, was torn in two from top to bottom.  Matthew 27:51 describes how “at that moment the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”
That supernatural action of God, in rending the curtain in two, assures us that we enter into heaven because of the eternal redemption that Jesus obtained for us by the shedding of his blood, as through the work of the Holy Spirit he did his Father's will and lived an unblemished life on our behalf.
The author of Hebrews will bring that up again in Hebrews 10:19-22 where he writes, “Therefore... Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened up for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith...”
A Cleansed Conscience for a Life of Service
A second part of our eternal redemption includes that our conscience is truly cleansed. Verse 14 assures us that by the redeeming work of Christ our conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to death – literally dead works – a reference to all our sinful thoughts and actions and to rituals that cannot save.
We have all done “acts that lead to death.” We are all sinners. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). And our conscience comes to convict us, to remind us that all have fallen short of the glory of God. All of us have sins that our conscience stirs to our remembrance. But no matter what your conscience is grieved about, you can find cleansing – the quieting of your soul – through saving faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
David found that out, not only after his sin with Bathsheba, but at so many other times in his life as well. Likewise, the Samaritan woman at the well, who had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband, found that out. So did the thief on the cross.   
Whatever may be on your conscience, if you repent of the sin that you are convicted of and have true saving faith that it is covered – propitiated – by the precious blood of Christ, then your conscience will be cleansed.
And a reason is given for the cleansing of our conscience. It’s not just so that our soul is quieted, though that is a great blessing as we have peace with God. Rather, verse 14 concludes that one of the purposes of a cleansed conscience is so that we are enabled to serve God. In fact, the verse ends (in the NIV) with an exclamation mark, “so that we may serve the living God!”
That's an important truth to keep in our minds and thoughts, that we are cleansed from our sin in order to serve our God! Many professing Christians, believing that they are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, seem to simply look forward to his return, without actively serving him. In that way, a professing Christian can become “so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good.”  Instead, you and I are to look for every opportunity to serve our Lord out of gratitude for what he has done.
After all, that is one reason God graciously chose us out of the world. In John 15:16 Jesus reminds us, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last…” And in the beginning of that chapter, Jesus describes how we get the strength and ability to produce fruit, to do the good deeds that Ephesians 2:10 tells us God has before ordained for us to do. In John 15:5 Jesus declares, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” 
A colleague and friend of mine, who is now in the glory of heaven, ended his frequent home mission reports by signing his name beneath these words: “Gladly serving Jesus.” There is great joy in serving the living God! It is part of our gratitude for God’s redeeming grace, and it is part of our anticipation of our service in the new heavens and the new earth where we will live and reign with Christ forever!
Christ has indeed obtained eternal redemption for all who by grace have saving faith in him alone. He has gone into the heavenly tabernacle, into the Most Holy Place – the Holy of Holies – not made with human hands, so that we who believe will follow him there. In the words of Colossians 3:4, When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
But in the meantime – until Christ calls us into the glory of his presence – may you and I, out of deep and sincere gratitude, serve him faithfully, this week and always! Amen.
Sermon outline:
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! - Hebrews 9:13-14
 “Cleansed to Serve”
Hebrews 9:1-14
I. The ceremonial law of the Old Testament focused on Christ through the Most Holy Place in
    the tabernacle (1-10)
II. Jesus entered the Most Holy Place – heaven (11):
      1) By shedding his blood (12b)
      2) By the Spirit’s presence and the blessing of God the Father (14b)
      3) By living an unblemished life (14c)
III. Because Jesus shed His blood for us:
       1) We who have true saving faith in Him alone will enter heaven, having obtained eternal
            redemption through the redeeming work of Christ (12c)
       2) Our conscience is purified and cleansed (14d)
       3) We are enabled to serve God (14e), with the strength He supplies (John 15:5)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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