July 15, 2018
The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are typically listed as follows:
- The Great Pyramid of Giza – (pictures) which is the tallest of the ancient wonders at 481 feet, and is really just a giant tomb ofPharaoh Khufu – by the way, it’s the only one still
- The Hanging Gardens ofBabylon – were built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his homesick Median queen. (Iphone4s)
- The Colossus of Rhodes – was located at the entrance to a harboron the island of Rhodes, and is actually a statue of the island’s patron god, Helios, or the sun
- The Lighthouse of Alexandria – was built at the delta of the Nile River, and was the second highest of the ancient wonders, about 330 feet tall.
- The Temple of Artemis – was located in Ephesus, the shrine to the city’s patron goddess, Artemis or
- The Statue of Zeus – was a large seated figure, 43 feet tall, built for the temple of Zeus in
- The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus – was built in modern-day Turkey, and was about 150 feet tall, and the burial place of Mausolus, a Persian satrap or governor. How would you like your name to be forever remembered as a burial place?
Indeed, they were architectural wonders. Many of the lists contain other such ancient wonders – sort of in an honorable mention category.
Solomon’s Temple makes most of those lists. Built atop Mt. Moriah where Abraham is thought to have offered Isaac, the first Temple was built in the 10th Century BC. (picture) It was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar, but a second Temple was built seventy years later after the Babylonian Captivity. Of course, King Herod then did an extensive remodel of the Temple which took almost 50 years. That Temple was also destroyed, this time by the Romans under General Titus in 70 AD. Most Jews and many dispensational Christians are awaiting the construction of a third Temple.
But back to the original Temple. It was stunning. Moving outward in, it contained the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of women, the Court of Israel, the Court of the Priests, the Holy Place, and of course, the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place contained the Ark of the Covenant – that is, the Old Covenant, within which was a jar of manna, Aaron’s budding rod, and of course, the two stone tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. The Ark was topped with the mercy seat, upon which were two golden cherubim. The very presence of God was thought to reside above the seat when His glory descended to the Temple on the day of its dedication. Tens of thousands of animals were sacrificed that day. The blood flowed freely.
By the way, it is suggested the gold and silver alone in the Temple was valued, in today’s dollars – at over $216 billion. The richest person in the world today – Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon – is worth about half that. Oh, and that was only the gold and silver in the Temple – that figure does not contain the rest of the precious metals, stones, materials, and the land upon which it sat. Could you place a price tag on the Temple Mount today, where the Dome of the Rock sits? As Jews and Muslims fight over that piece of land, I wonder what kind of comps an Israeli real estate agent could get for it. No doubt, priceless.
Well, as impressive as the structure was, what went on at the Temple was equally impressive. We remember, for example, the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place – once a year on the Day of Atonement – to offer sacrifices – first for himself and his family, then for the people. He would sprinkle the blood on the mercy seat – between the Law of Moses below in the Ark, and the Presence of God above between the cherubim. The blood covered the Law that had been broken bythe high priest, and the people. Acting as a barrier, if you will, between God and the broken Law.
But it wasn’t just the Day of Atonement on which sacrifices were made. The people brought daily sacrifices – for worship, for thanksgiving, for guilt and sin offerings. Blood flowed freely. In fact, another major annual festival of the Jews was Passover. They observed it, per God’s instructions, in commemoration of their deliverance from Egypt after the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn. You see, Moses had instructed every family to sacrifice a lamb without spot or blemish, to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and the lentil – the header of their doorways. That evening when the death angel passed through the land, killing the firstborn of every house – the angel would pass over any house with the blood of the lamb.
By the first century, as Jews per the Law traveled from all over to Jerusalem for the Passover – the Jewish historian Josephus records that about 250,000 lambs would be sacrificed. Everyone agrees that is a gross exaggeration, but even if the number was tens of thousands of lambs, the blood flowed freely. So much so, it is said the Brook Kidron, to the east of the Temple at the bottom of the Kidron Valley – between the Mount of Olives and the Temple – the brook was said to actually flow red from all the blood.
But again, it wasn’t just the Day of Atonement and the Passover – there were daily, weekly and annual sacrifices offered by the Levitical Priests. For centuries. And let’s not forget this was prescribed by God under the Old Covenant. God had given them the Law of Moses, comprised of 613 commands. At the same time, however, knowing they would inevitably and invariably break the Law, God also gave them the Levitical priesthood and the entire system of sacrifices. You see, it was through those sacrifices their sins would be atoned, and they would find forgiveness.
Along comes Jesus, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world. He would do so through a one-time sacrifice – for all time and for all His people. And not through the sacrifice of animals – not even thousands of animals – but through the sacrifice of Himself. You see, He was God in the flesh – the perfect Son of God and Son of Man – who would live a perfect life and offer His life as a sacrifice – an atonement – not for His own sins, for He had none – but for the sins of the people.
And so, He would not come of the line of Aaron – that is, He would not be a Levitical priest. No – He came from the royal line of Judah, of the house of David. He would come as king. But not only that, He would be of a different priestly line – a line much superior to Aaron and his descendents. Jesus would be of the line of Melchizedek, who was both a priest and a king. He was king of righteousness, and king of peace. And Jesus, the Messiah, as King, would be the same. Do you see how this ties incredibly together?
This is what we have been learning in our study of Hebrews. Jesus is better. He’s better than the angels, He’s better than Moses and Joshua. He’s better than the Abraham and Levi and the entire Levitical priesthood. He’s better than any and every sacrifice ever offered. In fact, He brought a better covenant with better promises and a better hope. So, in chapter 7, we saw how Jesus was of the Melchizedekian order, which was superior to Abraham and Levi. After all, the Old Covenant – the Law of Moses and even the Levitical system of sacrifices, could make no one eternally perfect. If it could, there would be no need for another priesthood.
So, Jesus came. His priesthood came with an oath, “The Lord has sworn, and will not change His mind, You are a priest forever.” As such, Jesus becomes the guarantee of a better covenant. The New Covenant.
Further, the old priests of the Levitical line, existed in great numbers because they kept dying. They couldn’t continue their priestly work of intercession. Jesus, however continues since by His resurrection, He holds His priesthood permanently. And so, being a priest forever, He is able to save forever those who draw near to God through Him.
Our great high priest is perfect – holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice – once for all. By His suffering, He has been made the perfect priest forever. Bringing us to our text today, as we arrive at Hebrews 8.
Look at the first 7 verses with me.Read.
At first glance, this is a bit confusing. But the whole letter is reminding us that Jesus is better. His priesthood is better. His sacrifice is better. And now, incredibly, His tabernacle or temple where He offers the sacrifice – is better. Understand that – as amazing as the tabernacle and later the temple were – all that gold, silver, precious materials – they were mere copies, shadows of the heavenly temple – where Jesus’ eternal sacrifice has been once-for-all, forever offered. Just like everything else – the old covenant, the law, the priesthood, the sacrifices – they were all simply types pointing to something much greater to come. And Jesus brought a better covenant, with better promises. Do you see – everything about Jesus and His work is infinitely better.
Let’s look briefly at the text this morning with this outline:
- A Heavenly High Priest(1)
- A Heavenly Sanctuary(2-5)
- A Heavenly Ministry(6-7)
The author has been arguing his point since the end of chapter 4. There, he had written, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” He introduced this idea of Jesus being heavenly high priest – He had passed through the heavens.
From there, he started chapter 5 talking about how high priests were appointed, and how they offered sacrifices for the people and their own sins. Then he told us how Jesus was appointed a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Oh, he had much to say about that, but he took an aside to gently shame the readers at the end of chapter 5 – you ought to be teaching these truths by now, but instead, you have need to be taught.
It’s time to grow up.
Then he took time to warn them with the most severe warning in the book. If you fall away from all you’ve known, it will be impossible to renew you to repentance. But he didn’t leave them there – he encouraged them with God’s promise of perseverance.
So then, he jumped back to him main topic – Jesus is of a better priesthood. It’s better than the Levitical priesthood. And through that priesthood, He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins – since the old covenant never made anyone perfect. You see, it was weak because of human flesh – and therefore, ultimately useless.
The main point of all this – chapter 8 – is we have such a high priest who is perfect – and has offered the perfect sacrifice. Not only that, He has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens. The Majesty simply a way of speaking of God in loftiest terms. But don’t miss where Jesus was seated – at the right hand of God. That is a place of highest honor. And then remember, the author’s primary text has been Psalm 110. We’ve spent a lot of time in verse 4, but the Psalm actually began with these words:
1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” 2 The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
This was clearly a Messianic Psalm – that God says to the Messiah, who we find later to be His Son, sit at My right hand, and rule in the midst of your enemies. And Jesus, having defeated the enemy who held us captive – having defeated sin and the grave – is seated at His Father’s right hand, ruling and reigning His people, right now.
Further, point 2, the author tells us not only did Jesus offer Himself as a sacrifice – yes, on a cross on earth – but that sacrifice was ultimately effective in a heavenly sanctuary, in a true tabernacle or tent, which the Lord pitched, not man.
Now, this passage has resulted in all kinds of speculative and actually silly interpretations. For example, it’s been suggested that at the foot of the actual cross was a heavenly basin, catching Jesus’ blood, which He later took to the heavenly sanctuary to offer for the sins of His people. That’s not what the author says, and there’s no indication of that. Let’s look closely at the text.
Jesus is now a minister – that is, serving as High Priest – in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle pitched in heaven. So it’s a heavenly sanctuary. Now, what was the ultimate purpose of the tabernacle in the wilderness? It was the place of God’s presence and the place where priests offered atoning sacrifices for the sins of the people. It’s the place where people met God.
That’s what verses 3 and 4 say. For every earthly high priest is appointed to offer both gifts – that is offering like thank offerings, etc. – and sacrifices – guilt and sin offerings – so it was necessary for the high priest to have something to offer – namely gifts and sacrifices.
Now if Jesus were on the earth – He wouldn’t be a priest at all. Why not? Because earthly priests were appointed according the Law – and they were Levitical priests of the tribe of Levi and the line of Aaron. Jesus was neither – so He would not have offered sacrifices according to the Law. No – but, we’ve found a new covenant – not the old one – was needed.
Now look at verse 5. “who [that is the Levitical priests who offered sacrifices according to the Law] serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, ‘See,’ He says, ‘that you make all things according to the pattern which was shown you on themountain.’”
That’s straight from Exodus 25:40. Moses is actually on Mt. Sinai, receiving instructions for the Tabernacle – the tent, the altar, all its furnishings – we’ll talk about that in the weeks to come. At the same time, he’s also receiving instructions about the sacrifices and the priesthood. But, God stops in the middle to say, when you build the tabernacle, make sure it’s according to the pattern shown you. What does that mean? Does that mean that God showed Moses some architectural drawings? Or that He showed him a little model mockup? Perhaps – but most suggest God somehow gave Moses of vision of heaven – which is God’s dwelling place – and the tabernacle and its specific plans spelled out on the mountain symbolically represent corresponding heavenly things.
In other words, I’m not sure there is a heavenly ark of the covenant, or a heavenly table of showbread, or a heavenly altar of incense, etc. Rather, those physical things symbolically represent heavenly and spiritual realities. So they must be specifically produced – follow the pattern, Moses. Build it to represent the heavenly sanctuary – which is where God dwells.
Remember, earlier, the author likened the veil to the heavens – which separated us from the presence of God. But Jesus passed through the veil – that is, the heavens – and is seated at the Father’s right hand where He serves as our mediator – of the New Covenant – so that we can draw near to God.
Leading us to our third point, the heavenly ministry in verses 6-7. Look at those with me, “But now He [that is, Jesus] has obtained a more excellent ministry – more excellent than who? What ministry? More excellent than the Levitical priests and the Levitical ministry. Why? How? By as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
All this for weeks has been building to this text and the verses that follow. The New Covenant is the one Jesus came to bring. Why – verse 7 – for if that first covenant – the old covenant – had been faultless, there wouldhave been no occasion sought for a second. But it was faulty, not because the Law was bad, but because people were bad. We were unable to keep the Mosaic Law, so we needed God to step in and do something different – to bring us a New Covenant. And that New Covenant is built on, enacted on better promises. What promises? That’s next week. We’ll see that the author quotes Jeremiah 31 and the promise of the coming New Covenant and all that means. It’s wonderful – we’ll see it next week.
But let close with this idea of covenant. I’ve been using that word a lot in the recent weeks – and as I said last week – this author uses the term 17 times in his book – considerably more than any other. What is a covenant? A covenant is an agreement between two parties – two people. Usually, the covenant goes like this – if you do this, I will do this. In other words, there are commitments or promises made to each other within the covenant – these are my responsibilities, and these are yours. Usually, there are also consequences spelled out for failure to meet the commitments within the covenant.
We should also think of covenants as being binding. When you enter into a covenant, you are binding yourself to its stipulations. Here was the problem with the Old Covenant. God gave the Mosaic Law and said, now keep it.
The problem is, they couldn’t – not because the Law was bad – it’s because people were. So God instituted the Levitical, sacrificial system by which they could find forgiveness when they broke the covenant. But that system was always intended to point to Christ. Because the Law, that system, the priests, the sacrifices, the blood that flowed freely from bulls and goats – could never take away sin. We needed something better.
And so, Christ brought a new covenant – a better covenant with better promises, and a better hope. We’ll talk about that next week, but here’s what I want you to know. God bound Himself to a New Covenant by which all the responsibilities lie with Him and the Mediator – since we couldn’t. The promises of the New Covenant are His promises to us, through the Gospel.
1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, 2 a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. 4 Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.