AN OLD TESTAMENT PICTURE OF JESUS
Dear friends in Christ,
In 1992 Hurricane Andrew swept across southern Florida. My family lived a couple of ‘burbs north of Orlando. Ground zero for Andrew was Homestead, Florida, south of Miami. We had a church in Cutler Ridge which was the next suburb north of Homestead. The pastor at Cutler Ridge sent his family to our home in Orlando with an elderly couple. The husband had Alzheimer’s. That lived in Homestead. They lost everything. Cutler Ridge looked like a bomb had gone off. At the time I was serving on our district mission board. Our board provided resources to get them back on their feet.
I spent a lot of time there. There wasn’t a home that wasn’t severely damaged. It was in late August. It was hot and humid. There was no electricity. No homes could use it anyway. Some lived in tents for months. Eventually most of the people who were members there moved and went elsewhere. The church closed. The neighborhood has changed completely. I remember wondering to myself, if I had to go through all that I wouldn’t know where to start. I hope I won’t walk in their shoes. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
The Bible says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus came to earth. He took on human flesh and walked in our shoes. None of that should have been or is a surprise. The Old Testament predicted that the Messiah would be and do all that. The prophecies were clear about it. There were also pictures of Jesus doing so. We have one today - “A Picture of Jesus in the Old Testament.” 1) He was a better high priest; 2) He offered a better sacrifice than the high priests; 3) He was the mediator of a better covenant.
A lot of people like the appearance of our church. I do too. My office looks out over the parking lot. You would be surprised how many people stop in our parking lot and take pictures. This portion of the letter to the Hebrews takes us to another “church,” the portable church, the Tent of Meeting, Israel carried around in the wilderness for forty years and used for hundreds of years even after they entered into the Promised Land all the way to the time of Solomon.
Their church wasn’t complicated. I could have drawn the blueprints. It had two rooms. The beginning verses of Hebrews 9 describe it. “In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered Ark of the Covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.
All the priests from the tribe of Levi went in and out of that temple daily, but they were confined to the first room. The second room was off limits. That was the Most Holy Place. That’s where God dwelt as they journeyed through the wilderness. He manifested himself as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. He was present among them. A curtain cordoned off access to that far room. Only the High Priest was allowed access but that too was on one day of the year - on the on the tenth day of the seventh month called Tishri. On our calendar it falls in the months of September and October.
The High Priest was God’s appointed spiritual leader. He was easy to spot. He was decked out with special clothes. He wore a white linen robe. Over that he wore a beautiful blue/purple ephod. Over that he wore a breast plate with twelve stones attached, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. He wore a turban on his head. He wore the Urim and Thumim. The high priest was special.
The High priest was God’s spokesman to the people; he was the people’s spokesmen to God. He was the mediator. Even now we retain that picture in our worship when the pastor faces the congregation, he speaks for God; when he faces the altar he speaks for the people to God.
We need to understand the background of this letter to understand what these verses mean.
People had grown up Jews, but somewhere along the line they came to faith in Jesus. The believed in the unconditional love and forgiveness of Jesus. They understood and treasured Calvary and the empty grave of Easter.
But following Jesus was not easy. They were persecuted severely by the Jewish community they were once part of. Some thought it was time to return. Being a Christian hurt too much. It was time to return to the temple worship led by the High Priest. It was time to offer those sacrifices of goats and bulls again. It was time to keep all those ceremonies and rites. Unconditional forgiveness from Jesus? Maybe that is just too simple and too easy. Maybe Jesus was a fake and phony.
“Hold everything!” says the author of this letter. Why do you want to go back to a high priest when Jesus is a better High Priest sent by the Father in heaven? “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.” Why do you want to settle for an earthly high priest who serves in an earthly temple when Jesus took our case before the Lord himself in the heavenly tabernacle? Why do you want to regress and return to an earthly high priest when the earthly high priest is just a picture of the greater heaven-sent High Priest, who gives you so much more?
In one of the nursing homes this week that we serve, there was a lady whom I love and is so dear. My message was basic sin and grace. As I was speaking she said she loved going to her priest and confessing her sin. She went on to say that he tells me what words I have to say and what things I need to do. I leave feeling so good. She was shocked when I told her that I have a better suggestion. Go directly to Jesus. He doesn’t tell you what you have to do or say, he tells you what he has done to save. He is the better High Priest. That’s the priest for us.
He is the better High Priest who offers a better sacrifice. Again we go back to the Great Day of Atonement on the tenth day of Tishri. The High priest went to the Tent of Meeting for a special sacrifice. Atonement needs to be done for sin.
A bull was slaughtered and the blood was taken into the Most Holy Place. The curtain was pushed aside. The blood was sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant, the place where God dwelt. That was to atone for his own sin. That was followed by the slaughter of a goat. The same thing was done for his own sin. Yet this was a picture of a greater sacrifice to come. The writer says, “He (Jesus) did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. Jesus didn’t perform a sacrifice, he was the sacrifice. The blood that made atonement was not of a goat or bull, it was his own. His own was much more precious than an animal.
There is something else about the blood. His blood was shed just once. It was shed once for all. The sacrifice didn’t need to be repeated like the animal sacrifices. Smoke was always hanging over the temple and the city. The animal sacrifices were repeated to show they really didn’t take away sin. Even the Great Day of Atonement was a once a year event. Jesus sacrifice was for all time, for all people, for all sin. His sacrifice is the real thing. “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!” That’s why we don’t do them anymore. The picture is not needed. We have the real thing sacrificed once and for all.
There is a very important passage found in the psalms that says, “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them— the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.” Think about what that passage says. No one can pay for the life of another. No person can give his or her life to save someone else for eternity. If no human can pay, certainly no animal can be a payment either. But that’s why our Heaven-sent High Priest came. He could pay and did pay. His blood was perfect. His blood was more than sufficient. He offered a better sacrifice. He offered the best sacrifice. He offered the only sacrifice.
He was also the mediator of a better covenant. You cannot read the Bible very long without coming across the word “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties by which those participate who agree to bind themselves to certain conditions.
I know someone who grew up on a farm in the Midwest and moved to Orlando. It was common when she was growing up that the laundry was hung outside to dry. My mom did that too. When the clothes dried blowing in the wind it smelled real fresh. When our dear friend hung her clothes out on a makeshift clothesline behind her house in the subdivision, the HOA confronted here. Their covenant said no hanging clothes outside.
Lots of covenants were made by God with people and nations. Most of the time God made the conditions and then fulfilled them. Examples? There was the covenant he made with Noah. He would never again send a universal flood. He sealed that agreement with a rainbow. He made a covenant with Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation; from his nation all the nations of the earth would be blessed. The Messiah would come from his family.
God also made another covenant and is known as the Old Covenant. It was formed at Mount Sinai. It included the commandments. It included the rites and rituals that would occur at the Tent of Meeting. It even included all the instructions about the High Priest. God told the people of Israel, “If you keep these commandments I will be your God and you will be my people. The Children of Israel said, “We will do it.” They didn’t. No one does. No one can. All are sinners.
So God gave the New Covenant where he fulfilled all the conditions of the Old Covenant. It truly is a Covenant of Grace. God made the conditions in the Old and kept them in the New in the person of Jesus. He is the perfect Savior. He is the Perfect sacrifice. He is the Perfect High Priest. He provides full and free and forever forgiveness. It is called the New Covenant. It is called Gospel. It is the good news.
“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” Some say that a contract and a covenant are the same. I know that when I go to a doctor there is always a ton of paperwork to fill out. One paper you can always count on is the one where you obligate yourself to pay the bill even if insurance doesn’t. If I don’t sign it, there is no examination or tests. If insurance doesn’t pay a bill will come.
When God makes a covenant there is something different. In Isaiah 49 the Lord asks: "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!" The Bible indicates the covenant is more like the ties of a parent to her child than it is a doctor. If a child fails to show up for dinner, the parent's obligation is not to walk away but to find out where the child and to make sure the child is cared for. God’s new covenant assures us of his faithfulness. It doesn’t change. Don’t push it away. Don’t doubt it. Embrace and believe it.
I pray that you can see how the high priesthood of the Old Testament was a picture of Jesus – a better High Priest, offering a better sacrifice, the Mediator of a better covenant.