A Tale of Two Thursdays
On Thursday we sent our representative to the seat of power. Eastbourne chose Stephen Lloyd to send him to Westminster. He will now represent us in matters relating to parliament. Whether you personally voted for him or not, he is our representative, he represents the whole constituency. And we have sent him to the seat of power to appear for us before parliament.
That’s what happened last Thursday. This coming Thursday we celebrate something that dwarfs the general election into relative insignificance. This coming Thursday is Ascension Day. You see after Good Friday where Christ made the one sacrifice for sins on the cross, He rose again on Easter Sunday and then appeared to hundreds of His followers over a period of 40 days. Then, 40 days after He rose, it was Ascension Day – the day Christ ascended from among us as the King of Glory and went to the true seat of power. He ascended to the right hand of God the Father – the throne of the universe. And Jesus Christ – our Flesh and Bone Brother – sat down to rule heaven and earth as our representative. We have sent our man to the seat of power to rule on our behalf.
At Christmas we sing the line “Pleased as Man with man to dwell.” On Ascension Day we can sing “Pleased as Man for man to rule.” He hasn’t just descended to us to become one of us. He has ascended from us to reign for us.
Look at verse 24:
24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
Jesus Christ sits on the seat of power and He appears in Heaven FOR US. Pleased as Man for man to rule. He rules on our behalf. And this is so much better than anything a politician could offer us.
But maybe the first question we want to ask about our representatives is this: Are you qualified to rule? Do you know how to use power?
Our conservative MP kept telling us about his track record in parliament, he knew his way around the halls of power, you could trust him. The Liberal Democrat MP pointed to his years of successful business – he knew how to lead. And we want that for our representatives.
Well chapter 1 of Hebrews began by telling us Christ’s qualifications. When Christ ascended to heaven 2000 years ago He was not a new kid on the block. No Hebrews 1:2 says He is:
heir of all things, and through Whom God made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.
Jesus is qualified to sit on the throne. It’s where He has always belonged.
But you know, we can get turned off a politician if we think they’re just big and powerful. We also want to know that they are one of us.
ONE OF US
During the election campaign the various candidates kept trying to tell us how Eastbournian they really were. “Born and bred in Eastbourne” is a line that goes down well with voters. The candidates want to be able to say: “I know all your issues, I suffer all the same trials as you do, I’m one of you.” That’s what wins votes. That’s what’ll get you political power.
But what about heavenly power? Can we really believe that the One who sits on heaven’s throne is ONE OF US? Well Ascension Day says Yes. The book of Hebrews says Yes. Jesus Christ, was born and bred in our constituency. That’s what Hebrews chapter 2 was all about. Look at Hebrews 2 and v14: “Since we have flesh and blood, He too shared in our humanity.” (v14).
Or verse 17: “He was made like His brothers in every way in order that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in service to God [representing us to God].”
Born and bred in our constituency. Suffering all the same troubles that we face. Verse 18 says “He Himself suffered when He was tempted and He’s able to help us when we’re tempted.” The Ruler of the Universe has gone through all the trials we go through. The One on the throne is one of us!
FOUGHT OUR BATTLES
And He’s fought all the same battles that we fight. In the election, everyone wanted to claim that they’d saved the DGH. You might have thought that they’d thrown themselves in front of bulldozers to save the maternity ward. Because it was a battle that affected us all, and all the candidates wanted to be able to say, “I fought the powers that be and I won through for Eastbourne.” That’s going to win votes.
Well Jesus Christ fought the ultimate powers that affect us. In chapter 2 we read halfway through v14:
By His death He destroyed him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- 15 and freed those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Jesus went to the cross. And there He fought against the powers that be – sin and death and the devil. And He alone defeated them. He’s not just qualified, He’s not just one of us, He’s fought our battles and won!
But more than that, He’s sympathetic to our suffering.
SYMPATHETIC TO OUR SUFFERING
When a politician says “I, like you, have suffered through the recession and I know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet” that’s a vote-winner. We don’t believe them, but it’s a vote winner. And if they’ve made good through adversity we reckon that this breeds character. And it makes them more approachable if they can sympathise with our suffering.
What about Jesus? Heb 4:15
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Chapter 5 speaks more about Christ’s sufferings for us. The One on the throne sympathizes with our suffering. He was Himself THE Great Sufferer. So we can go to Him.
But there’s something else I want from my representative. I want them to be above reproach...
The expenses scandal has damaged a lot of politicians from all the parties. And I’m sure it damaged the former MP who held office here. We want our representatives to be completely above board, to be pure and blameless. We have a great fear that power corrupts. And we hate to think that our politicians are corrupt.
But do we ever wonder whether heaven is corrupt? Whether heaven rules righteously? When things go wrong in life we’re very tempted to question whether the universe is being run fairly and above reproach. Can we be certain that the One who sits on the throne is not just a self-interested, power-hungry bully? Can we be sure of that?
Well yes we can. Because of Ascension Day, we know that the One in absolute control is absolutely pure. The One up there has been down here and He’s been completely transparent with us. Think of the Gospels. Even Christ’s greatest enemies couldn’t make their smear campaigns stick. And the One thing He’s shown that He does with His power is He gives it away to protect and serve the weak. That’s the One who sits on the throne. He is above reproach. Look at chapter 7 verse 26:
26 Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.
Jesus Christ the Son of God is qualified to rule, He’s one of us, He’s fought our battles, He sympathizes with our suffering and He’s completely above reproach. That’s what we want in our representatives in Westminster and we probably won’t get it, let’s be honest. But this IS what we already HAVE in heaven. We have a Great High Priest who represents us right now as He occupies the true seat of power.
Don’t put your trust in politicians or in politics or in parties or in electoral reform. You can pray for all of that, you’re commanded to pray for all of that, but you’re commanded to pray for all that because that’s not where the real power is. Your real representative occupies the true seat of power.
For more text continue reading...
Now you’ll notice that in this introduction I’ve tried to explain Jesus using the illustration of politicians and parliament. And I’ve tried to show that Jesus is far superior to that little illustration. Well of course in Hebrews they didn’t have parliament. Instead they had a much better illustration. An illustration set up by God Himself and which had been teaching the Israelites for a millennium and a half. I’m talking about the Old Testament tabernacle.
And in Hebrews 9 we’re going to learn a lot about this OT illustration of Christ and His work. But the lesson throughout the chapter is the same. You might be tempted to buy into this illustration of Christ’s work – don’t do it. Trust in Christ Himself.
You see the Old Covenant illustrations were done:
repeatedly, ineffectually and ongoingly.
While the reality of what Christ did was done once for all, decisively and for all time.
But let’s take a tour of the tabernacle. That’s what most of chapter 9 is, so I thought we’d use the wonder of 3D animation.
[Exploring a 3D animation of the tabernacle]
We begin in the east, God’s in the west. Remember Eden – driven east with flaming swords guarding the way back. So here, this illustration of how humanity gets back into God’s presence means we begin in the east.
And as we move west we come into the outer court. Only Jews allowed in here. And of course the first thing we encounter is the flaming swords. We have to get through the fire and the knife. That’s what the altar is for. But thankfully a sacrifice is provided for you, so the animal goes through the sword and the flames as they are sacrificed and burnt on the altar.
22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Next comes the basin for washing. Now the priests needed to cleanse themselves ceremonially, like a baptism, before they could enter into the Holy Place.
In the Holy Place only priests are allowed. We see the seven-fold lampstand on the left. The table of the bread of the presence on the right. Ask me about these afterwards. In the middle is the altar of incense and straight ahead is the curtain that separates the holy place from the most holy place.
Now only one man could step through this curtain, only once a year on the day of atonement. On that day, the high priest would make sacrifices at the altar for the sins of the people and he’s come through here with the blood of the sacrifice and then he’d enter into the most holy place – this illustration of entering into heaven.
And when he he saw the ultimate seat of power. Here was the ark of the covenant, with these golden angels, the cherubim, on top. It was the throne of the LORD and when the High Priest entered in with the blood of the sacrifice, he’d sprinkle it around, the LORD would see the blood and He’d be at peace with the people.
That was the Old Testament illustration and it happened day by day, and year by year. But it never did actually achieved the forgiveness of sins, it was only an illustration.
So, it happened REPEATEDLY:
So v6 – the priests entered regularly into the holy place. And v7, the high priest entered once a year, every year.
Millions of animals were killed. Gallons of blood was shed. Thousands of priests entering into these copies. And the fact that they kept having to do it showed that this is not a REAL atonement. It’s just an illustration.
The whole thing was ineffectual. It was all surface-level.
V9-10: This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
13 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.
The old covenant was all about external and outward things. So leprosy was a big deal in the OT. Everyone knew that there were much deeper problems with the human condition than leprosy but the OT law only dealt with the surface level thing as an illustration of deeper problems. Mildew in your house was a really big deal in the OT. Everyone knew there are deeper problems with creation than mouldy walls but the OT law just dealt with surface level things as an illustration of deeper problems.
And with these ceremonial cleansings – everyone knew the real thing that needed cleansing was the heart. And the OT law couldn’t touch the heart. All it could do was illustrate the problems.
V25: the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.
The whole system had to keep going. There was no finality. There was no priest who had offered the ultimate sacrifice after which everyone could just relax. No the OT law was an ongoing repetition.
BUT Christ’s reality was different.
If you imagine the 3D animation for a second. Imagine the LORD enthroned between the cherubim. Imagine He orders all the priests and all the sacrifices out of the tabernacle...
Read from v11:
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. 12 He 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, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 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. 14 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! 15 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.
Do you see how Christ’s sacrifice was
ONCE FOR ALL
12 He 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
It was INWARDLY
It actually went to the heart of the problem – v14 – it cleanses our consciences, not just the externals.
14 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!
And it was
FOR ALL TIME
V12: having obtained eternal redemption.
V14: the Eternal Spirit
V15: eternal inheritance
Christ has done it. He has offered the perfect sacrifice, He has been the perfect High Priest and now He occupies the seat of power on our behalf as our perfect representative.
Read with me verses 24-26:
24 For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.
That’s the reality.
But imagine if you lived under the OT illustrations and never trusted the reality. You’d live a life of constant striving, a life of externals – forever worrying what people think, what God thinks. A life where you could never really rest in God’s love for you.
But hang on, does that sound like you? Constant striving, keeping up appearances, no rest?
Or do you feel completely at peace with God, completely cleansed through Christ’s sacrifice, completely assured of your future with Him?
We say we trust in Christ’s reality, but we often feel like we’re living in the repeated, external tread-mill of the old covenant.
Have we really grasped the fact that the LORD Almighty has climbed off the throne and been slain. That He has carried His own sacrifice back into heaven, has sat down, His work completed and now He rules forever ON OUR behalf. Here’s a little test to see whether we’ve grasped the truth.
Read verses 27-28 with me
27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Everyone is destined to die. Everyone is destined to face judgement.
Heb 10 says it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Heb 12 says God is a consuming fire. One day He will judge you. So how do you feel about the day when God’s Appointed Judge – the LORD Jesus – comes to judge the earth. How do you feel?
Verse 28 says those who really understand the good news – they are WAITING for Him. The ESV translates it “EAGERLY WAITING”. If you’ve understood what Christ your Lamb has done, if you’ve understood what Christ your Priest has done – then you will not fear Christ your Judge.
Do you fear Christ’s return? Are you constantly striving, keeping up appearances, do you have no rest? Do you feel completely at peace with God, completely cleansed through Christ’s sacrifice, completely assured of your future with Him?
Well tonight we have one more illustration of the death of Jesus to enjoy. We don’t just see and hear but even touch and smell and taste this illustration. Bread torn apart, wine poured out – this is how much Christ loves you. His body broken, His blood shed for you – to give you peace. May we all look to Christ our sacrifice and priest again tonight and find the peace that He longs to grant us.