Credit Card Salvation (Hebrews 9:1-10)

I have really been afraid that in the recent days of this devotional writing project I’ve gone a bit too academic on everyone – I have somehow gained a reputation for that. So, to balance it out a little bit, let me begin today with a quote from my boys’ and my favorite movie of all time – “Dumb and Dumber.” We contend that there is a quote from that 1994 classic that fits just about every life scenario, so let me prove it today! Harry and Lloyd have come into possession of a briefcase filled with money, and over the course of the movie they spend it all, keeping track of it with slips of papers – I.O.U.’s.  And at the end, when the briefcase gets back to the rightful owner’s hands and he opens it to find nothing but hundreds of slips of paper, he says, “What is this? What is this? Where’s all the money?”  And Lloyd answers seriously, “That’s as good as money, sir. Those are I.O.U.’s. Go ahead and add it up, every cent’s accounted for. Look, see this? That’s a car. $275 thousand. Might wanna hang onto that one!”  

We have come to understand paying for things on credit. From Wimpy in the comic strip Popeye telling everyone “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” to our federal government running up a spending debt of $16,000,000,000,000.  Perhaps charging things to another account and another day is innate, as last week my three-year-old granddaughter quietly downloaded $380 worth of books on her mommy’s Kindle reader.

Credit cards are convenient; they work long enough to successfully purchase something in the short term, but a day of final payment is inevitably going to come.

The last three days we have read Leviticus chapter 16 which detailed the institution of the Day of Atonement. It was a single day of the year of salvation for the nation of Israel – as the blood of a goat was sprinkled over the broken law and the scapegoat was sent off to the wilderness to symbolize the removal of sin. But as we have already spoken of in this series of devotionals, a final payment to truly and fully forever remove sin would have to be made by one of the same substance – man … that the blood of bulls and goats was insufficient. In essence, the Old Testament payment was like a credit card charge – good for the moment, but ultimately in need of a final payment by the real thing.

So in today’s reading, the writer to the Hebrews begins to tell his readers how the work of Christ is greater than this long-standing Day of Atonement thing that had been going on year after year. In fact, his main point is that since it had been going on repeatedly, that very repetition illustrated that it was a weak system of credit … as it says in verse 9 the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.”  And the following verse makes it clear that they were temporary things until a new order could be established – the new covenant in Christ, expressed in the message of the Gospel.

These readers of the book of Hebrews were mostly Jewish people who had come to recently trust in Christ; they were getting beat up for their faith; and they were beginning to doubt to the extent of going back to a system where at least they could see and talk to an earthly priest. And the writer is combating this by saying, “No, don’t go back to a lesser, temporary system. The new system has now come through the work of Christ. You have a better high priest who is in a better place – in God’s presence.” Understanding this helps us understand why the same writer said to the same people:  “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”  (4:14-16)

Hebrews 9

9:1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2 A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4 which had the golden altar of incense 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. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7 But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. 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 functioning. 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. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

More “cross words” on the puzzle …

Sin – Yes, the issue that made the mess that made the cross necessary.

Truth – The message and work of the cross is the #1 truth in the world. That is why Christ is so hated and why the cross is such a symbol of fury to people around the world who are enslaved by Satan’s lies.

puzzle day 9

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Blood Splattered all over the Place! (Leviticus 16:11-19)

I am not a hunter. I am not against it at all, and several of my boys are very much into the sport. I have a very conflicted relationship with the deer population. On one hand I see them as beautiful creatures of God’s creation; but on the other hand, given the 10+ family incidents of car collisions with these overgrown rodents, I applaud all efforts at herd control! My issue for not taking personal revenge against them with a Mossberg Deer Thugs .30-06 Bolt Action Rifle with Scope is that I don’t want to deal with the blood and guts! Gross! Major Yuck! That is disgusting!blood_spatter

So, I’d probably not do well as a priest in the Levitical system in Israel. There was blood all over the place … regular sacrifices and hunks of meat and innards, etc. Think also about the smells! And did I mention yet?… blood everywhere! Everything about the Old Testament system of sacrifice pictured the terrible cost of sin, along with the costly and bloody price of redemption.

Why blood? Why sacrifice? Why the innocent for the guilty? Well, it all goes back to the beginning. Adam and Eve needed to be clothed to cover their nakedness and sin. Where did the skins come from? Yes, from innocent animals – slain to provide cover for the guilty sinners. A principle was established – a theme was set that would carry throughout Scripture and find descriptive fulfillment in a series of “cross words.”

Today’s reading gives details as to the role of the High Priest on the annual Day of Atonement – the biggest day of the year in terms of sin being paid for by sacrifice. Aaron was to come into the most holy place and into the presence of the ark – over which was the Shekinah glory of the Lord that was the very presence of God amongst His people.

When Aaron entered behind the curtain the first time, he was to take a censor of hot coals (from the altar upon which the sacrifices were made outside the tent) and put incense upon it – the result being that this would make a cloud of smoke which would hide the Shekinah glory from being seen by Aaron, in which event he would die. And he was also to take blood from a slain bull and sprinkle it on the atonement cover of the ark. The idea here is that the blood provided a symbolic covering for debt of the broken law, which was contained in the ark.

On the next trip into the most holy place, Aaron was to take blood from the goat upon which the lot had fallen to be slain. Again the blood was sprinkled on behalf of the nation to provide an atonement for sin. As well, Aaron would put blood upon the various furnishings of the tabernacle structure and even the brazen altar – again, as a cleansing cover for sin.

This entire scene is ripe with significance and meaning that would find ultimate fulfillment in the work of Christ. We will go to Hebrews to detail that for Thursday and Friday devotionals … after reading and commenting upon the scapegoat tomorrow.

No matter how you look at it, paying for sin is costly. I have light-heartedly spoken of blood at the top of these thoughts today. But as we end, let us be much sobered by our own sin that has contributed to the price of our own individual redemption. As Peter wrote:  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors,but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Leviticus 16

11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.

15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.

18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.

Two more “cross words” for the puzzle:

Judgment – God’s justice demands that He judge sin. It cannot be in His presence. We need to be perfect to be with God – to have righteousness … which we don’t have. But we may gain Christ’s righteousness – the one who took the judgment of God on our behalf.

Blood – Life is in the blood, and the shedding of blood was the giving of life. Without the shedding of blood (the Scriptures say) there is no remission of sin.

puzzle day 7

No Pressure, Just Don’t Mess Up! (Leviticus 16:1-10)

Any of the several hundred great kids that ran cross country for me at Williamsport High School can tell you that the title today is my famous final word to them on the starting line of every race. I would say, “OK, remember now, no pressure – just don’t mess up” and then I’d immediately turn around and walk away. It was meant to communicate that while this was indeed a serious athletic event, we should also have fun while competing (and winning!).

Moses’ brother Aaron – the high priest for the nation of Israel – received pretty much the same message from God … although there was no humor whatsoever attached to it.

In today’s reading, we have laid out the prescription for the sacred annual event in Israel known as “The Day of Atonement” (listed on our calendars as Yom Kippur). To cover this chapter 16, we will use three days of readings – today gives the basic overview of it, with the following verses over the next two days detailing the precise activities to be observed.

The first verse gives a historical context as to exactly when this revelation came to Moses – to be passed along to Aaron. It was (presumably soon) after the death of two of Aaron’s four sons. This is recorded six chapters earlier in Leviticus 10. It is not exactly clear what Nadab and Abihu did when it says they came before the Lord with “unauthorized fire,” but whatever it was, it is apparent that they should have known better and were not being respectfully accurate about how they were serving. Fire came out from the Lord and killed them on the spot – and Aaron and the two other brothers were essentially told to stay there and not grieve over them at all! All of this happened on day #1 that Aaron and the boys were doing their priestly job.

So – back to our chapter 16 – if you were Aaron, and Moses came to you and said, “The Lord says that you are not to go behind the curtain into the most holy place where resides the ark and the mercy seat whenever you want to” … would you, in light of what you saw happen to your boys, be ready to listen and to apply every detail? And, oh my – there were details.

This ceremony was to occur but once a year; Aaron was to wear certain garments that were clean – and he was not to be stinky himself; Aaron was to prepare a sacrifice for himself and his family, since they were sinners; and Aaron was to secure two goats to make atonement for the sins of the people. We’ll circle back along with the text in the next two readings to go over these details and what they mean.

But today, let me make one main point about this whole scenario. Notice how in the old economy of the Old Covenant that it was a scary sort of “stay away” kind of thing? The picture is of a God who is filled with wrath at sin – one who could only be approached in very precise and prescribed ways. The reason for that is … well … God was angry at sin and could only be approached carefully in specified ways. But then, in the New Testament economy of the New Covenant, the attitude is one that is grace-enriched with an entire open-armed flavor of “Come unto me!”  Why the difference? In a word – “propitiation.”  God has been satisfied by the covering (atonement) for sin that was paid by the blood of Christ. Remember the moment of the death of Christ and what happened?…  The thick curtain in the Temple that separated off the most holy place was ripped open and people could even see into this place that was continuously hidden from sight – representing that the way to God had been opened to all.

Are you getting this? Are you picking up on these “cross words”??  They are important. How about making plans to worship with us this Friday night at 7:00?  We’ll talk about this some more.

16:1 The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.

3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.

6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.

Let’s identify two more cross words on the word search puzzle today – again, the final words list and all letters will be available three weeks from today!

Faith – This is “believe” in the sense that you place your “trust” in it. It must have been difficult to have trust/belief/faith that Jesus was the Son of God if you were there seeing him hang on that Roman cross. But there were 500 or more witnesses who could testify to the truth of resurrection – yet, faith remains necessary to apply the Gospel message, being saved by grace through faith.

Hell – All of the great enemies of God are defeated by the cross and the resurrection: Satan, sin, darkness, death … and hell.

puzzle day 6