Chapter 9 of Hebrews is a looking back to the beauty of the tabernacle and the worship that took place there. The author of Hebrews describes the treasures inside the tabernacle and the work of the high priest on the day of Atonement. The Jewish readers would have understood without explanation the meaning behind the tabernacle and the Day of Atonement. They knew what sacrifice looked like. Sacrifice was a daily ritual among the Jews. There was an understanding during the time of Moses that in order for a pure and holy God to live among a sinful people, there must be a sacrifice. Why? Because access to God demands purity, and no one is perfectly pure, not one. Therefore, purity is a costly thing. Where can we find it, if not in ourselves? Somehow man’s sins must be atoned for and his uncleanness cleansed.

The writer of Hebrews has gone to great lengths to show us that Jesus is the only High Priest who brings a pure and perfect sacrifice that can open the way to God. That sacrifice is Himself. The animal sacrifices of the past were just shadows of a future reality when Jesus would come as THE sacrifice. The tabernacle was just a shadow of a future reality when the dwelling of God would live within the hearts of His people because of the sacrifice of Jesus.

William Barclay outlines four ways in which Jesus’ sacrifice differs than that of the animal sacrifices of the old covenant:

1. The sacrifice of Jesus was voluntary: Jesus willingly gave His life of His own accord. The animal’s life was taken from it. Jesus gave His life.

2. The sacrifice of Jesus was the product of love: Animal sacrifice was entirely the product of the law. The law required sacrifice for ceremonial cleanliness. Jesus’ sacrifice was out of love that brings internal cleanliness. We give a gift to our loved ones because we want to. It was not law but love that lay behind the sacrifice of Jesus.

3. The sacrifice of Jesus was rational: The animal did not know what was happening to it when it was killed. Jesus knew and was very aware of what was happening. Jesus did not die as an ignorant victim, weak and unsure of what kind of circumstances He found Himself in. He was not caught up in a situation He could not control, but rather, He was aware and His eyes were wide open.

4. The sacrifice of Jesus was moral: Animal sacrifice was mechanical. Jesus’ sacrifice was not one of rote ritual mechanically carried out, but one of obedience. Jesus obeyed the will of the Father for the sake of men. It was a choice, a choice of love.

The Only Way Sins Can Be Forgiven

The first covenant was dependent on man’s keeping of the law; as soon as he broke the law, the covenant became ineffective. The way between man and God was kept open through sacrifice. The new covenant is that men should be able to have unbroken fellowship, or relationship, with God. But what do we do when we come to the new covenant already stained by sins committed under the old covenant? The old covenant was powerless to forgive those sins.

The writer of Hebrews introduces a wonderful teaching. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is retroactive. It is effective to wipe out the sins of men committed under the old covenant and to inaugurate the fellowship promised under the new covenant.

This means:
1. The sacrifice of Jesus gains forgiveness for past sins. We should be punished for what we have done, and shut out from God; but because of what Jesus did, the debt is paid.

2. Second, the sacrifice of Jesus opens a new life for the future. It opens the way to fellowship with God. The burden of the past is removed and placed on Jesus. Our life now becomes life with God…a hopeful future.

Why does there need to be a sacrifice? Because forgiveness is a costly thing. It does not cost nothing. God is love but He is also holiness. He cannot break the great moral laws on which the universe is built. Just as there are physical, scientific laws upon which the universe operates, such as gravity,  so there are moral laws as well. Just as the physical laws of nature reflect the character of God, so the moral laws reflect the character of God. There are moral laws we abide by as humans, not because we said there are certain acts that are right or wrong, such as murder, but because there is a Standard outside of us who has declared what is holy and what is unholy, what is right and what is wrong.

Sin must be punished. It must be. God is love, but He is also just. William Barclay states, “Sin must have its punishment, or the very structure of life disintegrates.” No other religion offers an answer like the Gospel does for the problem of sin. Because the Gospel teaches us that God alone can pay the terrible price that is necessary before men can be forgiven. Forgiveness is NEVER, “It’s all right; it doesn’t matter.” It is the most costly thing in the world. It costs life. Death is the punishment for sin.

Without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins. When we see the effects of sin on this world and the effects of our sin upon others, we are brought to our senses. We realize there is no one good enough. No not one. Our eyes are opened when we read the Gospel and we say, “It cost THAT to forgive MY sins.” Where there is forgiveness someone must be crucified. This is why Jesus had to die.

The death Jesus paid, does not ever have to be paid again. The road is open once and for all. Nothing needs to be added. Our own “goodness” or efforts cannot add to what Jesus has done for us. We come to God only on the basis of Jesus’ work on the cross, and in that we are set free to live and move and have our being in Him and His freedom, known and fully loved as children of God.

Word Cited:

Barclay, William. The Letter to the Hebrews. The Westminster Press. Philadelphia, 1976.