************ Sermon on Hebrews 9:9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 12, 2016
"A Clean Conscience (1)"
The phone rang everyday at 2 in the afternoon. An elderly lady was up from her restless nap and wanted to talk and confess and cry and pray about the sins of her youth because she was wild and promiscuous as a teenager. What was the problem? A guilty conscience. Nothing she did could ease her conscience. It nagged her and bothered her and she had no peace.
King David went through a similar experience after his sin with Bathsheba:
(Ps 32:3-4) When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. (4) For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.His conscience was bothering him.
Your conscience, congregation, is what refuses to let you escape the guilt of your wrong doing. It is man's inner knowledge of himself as a sinner before God. It pops up at the most inconvenient times and keeps you awake at night. It is like the annoying dog next door that barks all night. Or, it is like my brother-in-law. He is so eager to stay in touch with his sister that he texts or calls when he drives to work. What is wrong with that, you may wonder? He is two time zones over so Ruth's phone beeps and rings at 5 or 5:30 in the morning. This week it was my phone.
Boys and girls, you all know what it is to have a guilty conscience: Mom and dad have said NO but you took a cookie anyway; you hurt your sister; and now you feel bad. Young people, you know what it is to have a guilty conscience: you have done something that you know is wrong. Moms and dads, you are not exempt: there are things you have done or are doing that are not right. And those of you who are older, the phone may not ring as loud or as often as it once did, but there are still things in your life that should not be there.
People will do almost anything to escape their guilty conscience: work, leisure, drugs, alcohol, religious activities, penance, acts of kindness and charity. But nothing permanently appeases the guilty conscience. Nothing we do can quiet it forever. It is like the chirping cell phone; it always rings and beeps.
Are you at peace with your conscience? Are you at rest? Or is it nagging you and keeping you up at night?
There is nothing you can do to free yourself from your guilty conscience. But, but, that does not mean nothing can be done for your guilty conscience. The message of Hebrews today is that the blood of Christ cleans our conscience from acts that lead to death.
Our Bible reading tonight tells us that under the old covenant the sinner was unable to escape a guilty conscience. The next time we will focus on how under the new covenant the sinner is able to escape a guilty conscience.
I The Old Covenant's Ceremony
A "Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary" (Heb 9:1). When it comes to the place of worship, God gave Moses exact details and a warning to make it exactly like the pattern shown to him (cf Ex 25:9). God specified how it was to be built, where it was to be put, how the Israelites were to camp around it.
The tabernacle consisted of three parts: the outer court measuring 150' X 75'. In this outer court was the altar of burnt offering with horns at the corners and the bronze laver for washing the priests. The tabernacle proper consisted of two rooms: the Holy Place measuring 10' X 20' X 10', and the Holy of Holies a perfect cube measuring 10' X 10' X 10'.
The Holy Place is described in verse 2. Listen to the description given to us:
(Heb 9:2) A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place.As the serving priest entered, to the right he saw the table of showbread; twelve loaves were arranged into two rows. To the left, he saw the golden lampstand with its seven branches; its cups were filled with the purest olive oil. At the back of the Holy Place, against the curtain, was the golden altar of incense; because it was so close to the veil, our Bible reading has it as part of the Holy of Holies (cf 1 Kings 6 which speaks of it as being in the inner room); since it was used daily by the priests, we know it had to be in the first room; it was in perfect alignment with the bronze altar out front and the ark of the covenant in the inner room.
Next is the Holy of Holies. This is also described for us by Hebrews:
(Heb 9:3-5) Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place [or Holy of Holies], (4) which had the golden altar of incense [remember, this altar was actually in the Holy Place] 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. (5) Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.In a space between the atonement cover and the outstretched wings of the cherubim, was the presence of God Himself, the throne of God on earth; this throne was but a shadow or type of the throne of God in heaven (cf Heb 4:16).
B The outer room, the Holy Place, was a scene of great activity every day of the year. Only priests could enter this room to serve the Lord. And those who served, like Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, considered it the highpoint of their priestly career. The priest would look after the golden lampstand: he would trim its wicks, add the purest of olive oil to the cups, and light the lamps at sunset. He would take live coals from the altar of burnt offering and place them on the altar of incense; every morning and every evening he would throw handfuls of incense on the burning coals and fill the room with a pleasing aroma. Every Sabbath he would replace and arrange the bread on the table of showbread. There was lots of stuff going on. Every day. All through the day.
C The inner room, the Holy of Holies, the Most Holy Place, was anything but busy. When the priest entered the Holy Place, do you know what drew his eye? Not the golden lampstand, not the table of showbread, not the altar of incense. His eye saw only the veil, the curtain, that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Do you know what that curtain stood for? Do you know what it said to the attending priest? No admission. No entrance. Keep out. Stay away. So for 364 days of the year it was closed off. For 364 days of the year no one went behind the curtain. For 364 days of the year it was dark and mysterious and off-limits.
But then came the Day of Atonement, the 365th day of the year. On that day the curtain could be opened. On that day someone could go behind the curtain. On that day someone was admitted to the earthly throne room of Almighty God. But, as you know, only the high priest could do this.
Let me draw the full picture for you. Seven days before the Day of Atonement, the high priest left his home and lived in the tabernacle. He was there for a couple of reasons. First, he was there to prevent contamination, to avoid anything which would make him ceremonially unclean and therefore unfit to do his duties on the big day; he couldn't have contact with a dead body, for instance, or with a leper or any similar diseases. He couldn't afford to be defiled because then he would not be able to enter the Holy of Holies. Second, he was there to rehearse and rehearse and rehearse in his mind everything he needed to do on that special day so he would not make any mistakes.
Finally the great day arrived. After cleansing himself the high priest put on a white tunic -- not the magnificent and glorious robes he normally wore. He placed his hands on the head of a bull and confessed his own sins and the sins of his family. When he was finished with confession he slaughtered the bull. Then he took two goats. Lots were cast to pick the one that belongs to the Lord; the other was designated as the scapegoat.
The high priest entered the Holy of Holies three times. The first time he lifted the veil and entered the inner sanctum with a golden censor. With the censor he carried coals taken from the altar of incense on the other side of the veil. He poured out the glowing coals before the Lord, sprinkled incense on top, and filled the Holy of Holies with a sweet or pleasing aroma; the smoke also formed a kind of cloud between the high priest and the glory of God so the high priest could not look upon the glory of God and die. The high priest then exited the inner room.
Then the high priest took the blood of the slaughtered bull, again lifted the veil, and reentered the Holy of Holies. This time he sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. Seven times he sprinkled the blood. Again he exited the Holy of Holies.
The high priest now sacrificed the goat that belonged of the Lord. This time he confessed the sins of the people. He entered the Holy of Holies a third time and seven times sprinkled the blood of the goat on the mercy seat.
Upon emerging the third time, the high priest took the leftover blood of the bull and the goat and sprinkled them on the altar of sacrifice and rubbed them on its horns. Then he laid his hands on the scapegoat, confessed all the sins of the people, and sent the goat so far into the desert that it could never find its way back again.
The carcass of the sacrificed bull and sacrificed goat were taken outside of the camp and burned. The high priest took off his blood-splattered white tunic, bathed, put on his high priestly robes, and then led the people back to his home where he entertained them with a feast of great celebration: eating, drinking, dancing, and joy.
II The Old Covenant's Inability
A Now, despite all this ceremony -- the sacrificed animals, the special clothes, the gallons of blood, the eating and drinking and dancing and celebration -- when all was said and done, when all the people returned to their tents, the phone began to beep and ring again. Their conscience began to bother them again. Look at verse 9:
(Heb 9:9) 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 worshiper.
The offering of bulls and goats was never intended to clean the conscience. Instead, it focused on externals. Look at verse 10:
(Heb 9:10) They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings--external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
B Why all of this stuff on the Day of Atonement, then? What did all of the ceremony deal with? Look at verse 7. It dealt with "the sins the people had committed in ignorance" (Heb 9:7). Those sins are now atoned for. What kinds of sins? Look at all the detailed regulations in Exodus and Leviticus. Who can possibly keep all of them straight all the time?! That's what the Day of Atonement dealt with.
But what about the sins of the heart? What about defiant sins? What about flagrant sins? What about willful sins? What about those sins the people enjoyed? All of the ceremony and pageantry and rites did nothing to make atonement for those kinds of sins. So the phone began to chirp and beep and ring again. The conscience began to bother them again.
Think about sins "committed in ignorance." Is this your problem? Is this my problem? Thanks to the Word and Spirit and the teachings of the church, there are few or no sins I commit in ignorance. I know exactly what I am doing. I know exactly when I am doing wrong in thought, word, or deed.
The Holy Spirit is showing the original audience of Hebrews that their old Jewish faith was ineffective and even useless in dealing with their guilty conscience! So, don't go back to that old faith. It does you no good.
C Look at verse 8: "The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing" (Heb 9:8). When the Day of Atonement was finished the curtain was left hanging. The barrier was still there. The separation was still there. God could not be approached. And, for another 364 days no one, no one, could go in to make atonement for sins. Despite all their efforts to make atonement they were still prevented from drawing near to God. Think about this: year after year with atonement after atonement, bull after bull, goat after goat. Hundreds. Thousands. Yet, the people were still kept at a distance. They remained guilty. They knew their guilt. So their conscience continued to be bothered by unforgiven sin.
D So, are the people without all hope and all forgiveness? Will the conscience forever be bothered and upset and uptight? Is the phone forever going to buzz and ring and chirp and beep? Buried in verse 8 is a key phrase -- a phrase of hope and anticipation. The phrase "not yet." "The way into the Most Holy Place has not yet been disclosed." Not yet. So, a day is coming when it will be disclosed. A day is coming when the curtain will be lifted. A day is coming when man does have access to God and to forgiveness. A day is coming when the conscience will be cleared. Limited access to God and His throne and His grace will one day give way to unlimited access to God and His throne and His grace. Oh what a day that will be when the "new order" is applied (Heb 9:10).
III An Illustration
A I want to illustrate this with David in Psalm 51. If you can turn there with me (page 889 in the pew Bibles). Look at the heading: "A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba." So David is guilty. And David felt guilt. David had a guilty conscience; boy did he ever have a guilty conscience. David's adultery -- and the murder and lies that followed it -- were not sins of ignorance. They were premeditated, willful, deliberate, planned.
David had a problem: he needed mercy, he needed forgiveness. Look at verses 1 & 2:
(Ps 51:1-2) Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. (2) Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
So what could David do? Right away he knew he couldn't bring sacrifices to atone for his wrong doing. Look at verse 16:
(Ps 51:16) You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.David knew, he knew, that the old covenant provided no forgiveness for his deliberate acts of sin.
So what did David do? He did the only thing a sinner could do. He confessed his sin:
(Ps 51:3-5) For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. (4) Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (5) Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
He came before God as a broken sinner. Look at verse 17: "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise" (Ps 51:17).
David pled for mercy. He came before God as a broken sinner and he pled for a clean conscience:
(Ps 51:7) Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
(Ps 51:14) Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
B We know David was forgiven and restored. We know his conscience was cleared. But not because of the old covenant with its ceremonies and regulations. He was forgiven and restored on the basis of Jesus. Turn back to Hebrews. Let's read what we will look at in more detail the next time we look at Hebrews:
(Heb 9:11-14) 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!Did you hear that? Christ -- and only Christ -- can do what the old covenant cannot do. Christ -- and only Christ -- can cleanse our conscience.
But look at the price: His own blood. This is the price of a clean conscience: the blood of the Son of God!
Do you hear your conscience, congregation? Do you hear its accusations? Listen to its call. Answer its call. It is a messenger from God. It is message to seek refuge and cleansing in Jesus.
Like David, like all the Old Testament believers, there is nothing you can do to silence the chirping, ringing, beeping phone. Moral efforts, religious activity, acts of kindness, baptism, personal sacrifice -- none of this can cleanse your conscience. The only way to a clean conscience is by the blood of Jesus.
So, how is your conscience? Are you free from its accusations? Have you found full atonement for all your sins? Has it sent you to seek refuge in the blood of Jesus?
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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