“But Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come. In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), he entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Last time, we talked about the fact taht the old covenant ministry, rooted as it was in the law, never really accomplished what we most needed it to accomplish. We’ll address that point a great deal more directly in a couple of weeks, Lord willing, as we get into chapter 10. That revelation, though, prompts a rather nagging question: How can we get our hands on what we most need? The author of Hebrews begins to answer that question here. Our next several conversations are going to be all about how the new covenant was made including, next week, a three-part look at specifically why it is better than the old. And rather than taking it in big sections like we bit off last week, I’m going to do my best to break it down into smaller bits. Let’s talk about the new covenant God made with us in Christ and how it came to be.
One of the ideas that Marvel movies really make hay with is that there is more to this world than we can see with our eyes. This idea plays a really important role in the recent series, Ms. Marvel. Her powers come from a mutation (making her the first official mutant in the MCU – a fantastically exciting revelation dropped at the end of the finale episode), but they were activated by an interaction she had with an alternate dimension called the Noor Dimension. This place exists parallel to our dimension, but can’t be seen with the naked eye. (Alternate dimensions – which are also called realms in the Shang-Chi movie – are not to be confused with alternate universes which are a separate thing…it gets really confusing really quickly, so don’t try to think about it for too long.)
While we certainly don’t find anything quite so fantastical as this in the Scriptures, we do find evidence that there is a spiritual world that exists alongside our world, but which we cannot see and interact with on our own. It is not some alternate dimension that you could travel to, but it is there all the same. And this spiritual world is apparently a more complete picture of reality than what we can see. Things we do here, especially as pertain to our worship, are copies of the deeper truths that exist there.
Let me get more specific. The writer of Hebrews seems to argue that our religious rituals – or at least the religious rituals of the Jews – were but copies of the deeper realities of the spiritual world. He has made a few different references to this idea so far. The tabernacle itself was created as a copy of God’s own throne room in this spiritual realm. And because their rituals were all copies of this spiritual world rather than the real things, they could never quite do for us what we most needed them to do. Oh, they worked for what were and what we needed at the time, before the time came to introduce us to the real things, but we needed the real things.
Because human sin involves a human rebellion against God, truly reconciling humans to God requires a human life to be given back to God. Entering into His presence with anything less than the appropriate offering simply won’t do. It won’t be accepted. And while it would be very easy to paint this reality as reflective of God’s pettiness or His simply being difficult to work with, neither of those things are the case. Instead, they are reflections of God’s holiness and justice. Because of His holiness, anything less than perfection can’t be in His presence. Because of His justice, He can’t accept anything less than what is right. This, however, left the people and God in a challenging place. He wanted a relationship with them, but they couldn’t get to Him. At least, they couldn’t get to Him in a way that allowed for that relationship to happen.
Because we are each sinners in our own right, our lives given back to God in sacrifice would be sufficient to cover for our wrongs. Yet if we give our lives back to God in sacrifice, we won’t have them anymore. That is, we’ll be dead. And you can’t very well have a relationship with someone who is dead. There’s a reason Paul describes the wages of sin to be death. He wasn’t blowing rhetorical smoke at us there. What we needed was a way to be reconciled with God that didn’t require our own lives. And, for Israel, the time had not yet come for Christ to come and be the sacrifice for us.
God’s solution to this whole problem was the sacrificial system. Instead of us dying for our own sins, God graciously allowed an animal offered in sacrifice to serve as a substitute for us. In His great mercy and covenantal faithfulness, God took the animal’s death and declared our sins covered. This covering was neither perfect nor complete, but it did accomplish what we needed to for the moment. It was a good thing, but it was never more than a shadow, a copy of the real thing which we needed to have in place to secure our forgiveness and which God was steadily working toward making available not just for a single people, but for all the people.
This real thing is what Jesus came to achieve for us. He entered the spiritual realm and brought the acceptable offering of His own life, a human life given for human sin. And because His was a perfect life, He didn’t have to waste it atoning for His own sinfulness. That’s why no other sacrifice could have ever accomplished what Jesus’ sacrifice did. Our lives offered in sacrifice to God would first have to cover our own sinfulness. Yet once our lives were offered in sacrifice for our own sinfulness, we wouldn’t have anything left to cover for the sinfulness of anyone else. Jesus, though, being a pure and spotless sacrifice, didn’t have to cover for His sinfulness. He could get straight to covering ours. And because our God is rich in mercy and abounding in faithful love, He declared Christ’s sacrificial offering sufficient to cover everyone else’s sin. All lives were to be reconciled by this one life that entered into the most holy place – not the copy in the temple, but the real one – and brought to God the appropriate sacrifice. Now, all those who are willing to trust in Him can experience the redemption He has made available through His blood. To put that more plainly: You can be reconciled to God in spite of any sin you’ve ever committed if you are willing to trust in Jesus. You can be right with God through Christ thanks to the new covenant God made with us through Him. That’s good news indeed.