************ Sermon on Hebrews 9:11-14 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 10, 2016
"A Clean Conscience (2)"
All of us have a nagging conscience. Over and over again it accuses us. Over and over again it reminds us of our shame. Over and over again it tells us we are guilty. Guilty of breaking everyone of the Ten Commandments. Guilty of having other gods. Guilty of idolatry. Guilty of misusing God's name. Guilty of not keeping the Sabbath. Guilty of not honoring our parents and those in authority. Guilty of murder. Guilty of adultery and lust. Guilty of theft. Guilty of false witness. Guilty of covetous desires. Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.
Our conscience -- like every other part of us -- is also fallen. It is never infallible. It is not a reliable judge of right and wrong. Yet, God has given it to us to remind us daily of our guilt and the need for forgiveness.
I remind you that there is no escape from our conscience. We cannot hide from it. We cannot satisfy it. We cannot ignore it. We must not ignore it because to ignore our conscience leads to death and hell's destruction (Heb 9:14).
On this Lord's Supper Sunday I want to ask how do you handle your guilt and your shame? What do you do with the accusations of your conscience? How do you silence the accusations of your guilty conscience?
I The Old Covenant's Failings
Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who are thinking of leaving Jesus to return to Moses and the works of the Law. It was King David who first said that the old covenant doesn't work in dealing with guilt and shame.
(Ps 51:16) You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.That's what King David says as his conscience bothers him after committing the sins of adultery and murder.
Hebrews says the same thing. All the sacrifice and blood associated with the tabernacle and temple does no good. Year after year. Offering after offering. It dealt only with sins committed in ignorance (Heb 9:7). It didn't deal with sin done willingly, premeditated, on purpose -- like the sins committed by David, like the majority of sins committed by you and me. And, it didn't clear the conscience and make the sinner right with God (Heb 9:9). As the song we sing puts it,
Not what my hands have doneSo, the old covenant failed to handle a guilty conscience. Therefore, Jewish Christians, don't go back to Moses. That's the message of the first ten verses of Hebrews 9.
can save my guilty soul;
not what my toiling flesh has borne
can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
can give me peace with God;
not all my prayers and sighs and tears
can bear my awful load.
The good news of the Gospel, the good news of the new covenant, is that it is possible for you and me to have a clean conscience because of Christ. Hebrews gives us three reasons.
II Jesus Went Through
A We find the first reason in verse 11. It starts with "When Christ came as high priest ..." (Heb 9:11). Many people automatically assume that Hebrews is talking of Christ's earthly coming, His coming in the flesh. However, the word that is used for the coming or appearance of Christ speaks of the appearance of a great person, the appearance of someone with glory and power and majesty. So, in mind is an event that is crucial to our understanding of Hebrews: the ascension of Christ into heaven. In Hebrews, the ascension is the crowning experience of Christ's saving work. Hebrews wants to emphasize that at this very moment believers have a High Priest at the right hand of God bringing their salvation to completion.
The opening verse continues with, "Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here" (Heb 9:11). What good things? The good things mentioned in Hebrews 8 about the new covenant: new birth, an exclusive relationship, an intimate relationship, and forgiveness of sins.
B So what did Christ do as the 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 part of this creation" (Heb 9:11).
Jesus did what the high priests of Israel could only prefigure. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priests of Israel would pass through the tabernacle, pass through the Holy Place, pull aside the curtain, and enter the Holy of Holies. But the incense and the smoke and the curtain and the realization of their unworthiness kept them from looking at the presence of God. Jesus, however, went through, all the way through to the right hand of God Himself. And was seated at His right hand.
So, on this Lord's Supper Sunday we rejoice we have a High Priest at the right hand of God Who completes our salvation and cleans our conscience.
III A Better High Priest
A Closely related to our first point are the contrasts between Jesus and the high priests of Israel. Telling us what? Telling us that Jesus is a better High Priest!
The first contrast has to do with the location. The high priests of Israel passed through an earthly sanctuary. Jesus went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. Jesus went through the real deal while the line of Aaron went through the shadow or copy.
B The second contrast has to do with the means. No one is allowed to enter the Most Holy Place empty-handed. You can only enter in with blood on your hands. The high priests of Israel came with the blood of goats and calves. Jesus entered the most Holy Place by His own blood (Heb 9:12). The sacrificer was also the sacrifice.
C The third contrast has to do with quantity. The high priests of Israel entered the inner room once a year (Heb 9:7). The tenth day of the seventh month. The Day of Atonement. And, this happened year after year. Sacrifice after sacrifice. Goat after goat. Bull after bull. Thousands of gallons of blood was collected and poured and sprinkled. But Jesus entered "once for all" says verse 12. I cannot emphasize enough how important this phrase is to the author of Hebrews. It is a strong phrase. It is an emphatic phrase. Jesus entered "once for all." One time. Never to be repeated. Why? Because His blood and His sacrifice is of infinite worth. Enough to cover all sins. Enough to cleanse the conscience of all men. Enough for all time.
D The fourth and final contrast has to do with result. The high priests of Israel covered sins done in ignorance. This has mostly to do with the ceremonial law, the external regulations of washing, clothing, feast days, what to eat, what not to eat, accidental contact with dead bodies, and so on. These sacrifices only made one "outwardly clean" says Hebrews (Heb 9:13). However, the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper (Heb 9:9). Why not? Because most sins are not done in ignorance; rather, they are willful, premeditated, and done knowingly. By way of contrast, Jesus "obtained eternal redemption" (Heb 9:12). Eternal redemption. Thanks to Jesus, the sinner is eternally free and the conscience is eternally cleansed. All your sins are paid for -- past, present, future. The sins you are born with are covered. The sins you commit are covered. Your conscience has been cleansed forever. You have the assurance of this. You don't have to worry that your sinful past will someday come back to haunt you.
On this Lord's Supper Sunday we rejoice that Jesus is the better High Priest Who is more than able to cleanse our guilty conscience.
IV A Greater and Better Sacrifice
A This brings us to our third and final reason why Jesus is able to cleanse the conscience. In verse 14 we are told three marks, three symptoms, three characteristics, of Jesus' sacrifice:
(Heb 9:14) 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!
First, we notice that Jesus' sacrifice was voluntary. The animal sacrifices of Israel were but brute beasts, passive, uncomprehending, victims that were slaughtered against their own will. But Jesus' sacrifice is greater and better because, says Hebrews, He "offered himself." He gave His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). He laid down His own life. No one took it from Him, but He laid it down of His own accord (Jn 10:17-18). He set His face to go to Jerusalem, knowing He would die there (Lk 9:51). It was He Who breathed His last and committed His spirit into the hands of the Father (Lk 23:46).
B Second, we notice Jesus' sacrifice was "unblemished." He offered Himself "unblemished" to God. He lived a perfect life and offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice. Remember what Isaiah said about Him?
(Isa 53:9) He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.Pilate declared Him to be innocent of all charges (Lk 23:4,14). The Centurion standing watch by the cross declared Him to be a righteous man (Lk 23:47). Peter tells us He is a lamb without blemish or defect (1 Pet 1:19). Earlier in Hebrews we are told Jesus was without sin (Heb 4:15). Based upon the Bible, the Catechism reminds us that a sinner can never pay another sinner's debt before God; we need a High Priest Who is truly righteous. An unblemished Jesus brings an unblemished offering.
C Third, and most importantly for us on this Lord's Supper Sunday, Jesus' sacrifice accomplishes what was impossible for Aaron and the high priests of Israel. He cleanses our conscience. He cleanses our conscience from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God.
I just love that final phrase: so that we may serve the living God. Our conscience is cleansed by Jesus so we may joyfully, willingly, and wholeheartedly serve the living God. This is so simple and so basic:
-Can you freely serve God if your sins are not forgiven? Of course not!
-Can you joyfully serve God if you know He is angry with you every moment of every day? Of course not!
-Can you serve God with all your heart and soul if you have guilt that condemns you? Of course not!
To serve God -- to serve God joyfully, to serve God willingly, to serve God wholeheartedly, to serve God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength -- we need a clean conscience. We need our guilt removed.
How do we get a clean conscience? How are we set free from our guilt? Not by works. Not by charity. Not by ignoring the problem. Not by using alcohol or drugs. The price of a clean conscience is the blood of Christ. This sacrifice, and only this sacrifice, gets the job done. That's what we celebrate on this Lord's Supper Sunday.
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