Morning Musing: Hebrew 6:19-20

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner, because he has become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (CSB – Read the chapter)‬‬

In the ancient world, it was broadly understood that you weren’t going to have an audience with the gods. Ever. They were bigger, higher, and more powerful than you. No one thought about them as particularly righteous, but they were gods and you were not. No, getting into the presence of the gods took the right kind of sacrifices offered by the approved representatives following the right set of instructions at the right time. This one person went into the gods’ presence on your behalf. You never got such a privilege yourself. There was forever a distance between you and them…and you and Him. We were never saved by that, God was never happy with that, so Jesus fixed it. Here, the author of Hebrews tells us how, but in terms that would have made more sense to his audience than they do us. Let’s talk about it.

God didn’t want a temple. It was never His idea. He wasn’t a God like all the other gods and so He didn’t need the same kinds of attention and buttering up with gifts they did. Most of all, He didn’t need a house. He didn’t dwell in a single location like the other gods did. He was everywhere all at the same time. He still is. Besides, He already had a really nice tent and He was happy with that. But His people were relentlessly focused on being like all the other people around them, so they insisted they build Him a house where they could come visit Him…where they could have some measure of control over their relationship with Him.

In terms of its general form and design, Israel’s temple was a whole lot like the temples of all the other gods. There was an outer courtyard where anyone could come and gather near to the god’s presence. Go a little further inside and there was an inner courtyard. This was reserved for the faithful. Only if you were really committed and had been through the right rituals (and were the right gender) could you enter this far. Both of these places were often open to the air.

In the middle of the courtyard was a building of some sort. This was the holy place. Now you were starting to get uncomfortably close to the god. This was where most of the sacrifices and offerings were made. There was usually some kind of a door or curtain separating this place from the outer, profane courtyards. At the heart of this building, there was yet one more inner sanctuary. This was the holy of holies. This is where the idol was kept and was where they believed the god lived. It was where his presence dwelt.

You didn’t get access to this room. Only the high priest received that privilege and then only after he had proven himself worthy by performing various sacrifices, offerings, and rituals. What this all meant practically is that you never entered into the presence of the god. You weren’t worthy of that. Everything about the structure and design of the temple was in part intended to convey that message to you. You were supposed to leave with a profound sense of how great the god was and how utterly insignificant you were. Nothing about any of this was intended to convey a sense of relationship. That wasn’t what you had with the god. No one did. You did what he said and made your sacrifices and offerings because he was the god, you were not, and he was going to smash you like a bug if you didn’t. That was that.

And this is all what the people of Israel had with Yahweh. Now, there were some important differences between what being in a right relationship with Him looked like versus what being in a right relationship with one of the other gods looked like, but there were also a great many similarities. Namely, under the system of the Law, there was a separation between Him and us that no amount of sacrifices and offerings was going to change.

Just like all the other gods, the average worshiper never got close to entering into His presence. In front of the place where they believed God lived hung a giant curtain. Only the high priest ever went behind that curtain and then only on one day of the year and then only after performing a whole battery of sacrifices, offerings, and rituals to make sure he was clean and pure and wasn’t going to get smote as soon as he went in. Even then, they would tie a rope around his ankle to fish him out just in case, so they didn’t have to go in themselves and risk the same fate.

The net effect of all of this sent a very clear message: you couldn’t have a real relationship with God. The trouble with this, though, is that He made us for a relationship with Him. He wasn’t going to be satisfied unless and until He had that, and frankly, neither were we. We would always be searching for the things we knew we were missing even if we couldn’t quite put our finger on what and why.

What we needed was someone who could go into that inner sanctuary—not just the one made by human hands, but the real thing that existed in the heavenly realm and on which the physical place was based—and bring God out to us. We needed someone who could make Him accessible. The trouble is that no priest could ever do that. It was all they could do to get themselves prepared to go in. They weren’t about to bring anything out. That would take someone entirely different, more powerful, and more righteous than they ever managed to be.

This is what Jesus did for us. When He died, Matthew tells us that the veil in the temple split down the middle from top to bottom. It was like someone had come along and ripped it in half like a piece of cheap cloth. When He paid the price for our sins, He entered into God’s presence to bring out what was there so that we could have unmitigated, unrestricted access to Him.

Through Jesus, you now can have a relationship with the God of gods and the Lord of lords. Under the blanket of His holiness, you can stand boldly in His presence, confident in the righteous status you have been given. You no longer need any kind of human intermediary. You don’t need sacrifices and offerings. You don’t need a law. None of those things can do or replace what Jesus did. Through Him you can get to God. The only question is: will you?

The hope we have in Christ is solid. It isn’t going anywhere. No one can take or otherwise impede your way to it. You can place all your hope and trust on it and it will not give way. But this only comes when you are willing to follow the pathway He has blazed for you. Jesus is the way. He went behind the curtain and opened the path. We only need to walk it. I hope you will.

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