In 1992 Queen Elizabeth visited Australia. And during the visit, Prime Minister Paul Keating caused a diplomatic scandal felt around the world. Do you remember what it was?
He was at a function with the Queen, and as they walked along, he reached out a hand to guide her in a certain direction, and he TOUCHED HER.
Photo’s of Paul Keating with his hand on the Queen’s back appeared in newspapers worldwide. In England, the headlines read “Unhand Queen!” And “The Lizard of Oz”
One article went like this
English press and politicians rallied round Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday, accusing Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia of having BREACHED PROTOCOL by putting his arm around her. “Nobody puts his hand on the queen,” said Geoffrey Dickens, a member of Parliament for the Conservative Party. “This was a demonstration of discourtesy.” “I was horrified,” said another Conservative member of Parliament, John Stokes. Mr. Keating’s wife, Annita, also reportedly failed to curtsey.
Apparently the Queen wasn’t at all concerned by the gesture. She’s said to be a lot less fussed by the rules and protocol than previous rulers.
Down through history there’s been rules that LIMIT your contact with the Queen. That raise BARRIERS between her and the general population.
Rules about what you wear, and how you address the Queen. Rules about curtseying and bowing. Rules about not speaking unless the Queen speaks first. Rules about NOT TOUCHING.
If Paul Keating had attempted what he did a couple of hundred years EARLIER, he might have ended up in the Tower of London, or hanging from a rope.
But ROYAL PROTOCOL HAS CHANGED. Access to royalty is now more open. And that’s what Hebrews 8-10 is all about. All about A CHANGE IN ROYAL PROTOCOL. Not towards British royalty, but a change in DIVINE protocol.
It USED to be that access to God was RESTRICTED. But NOW, things are DIFFERENT.
All the world’s religions want to show you HOW TO GET CLOSE TO GOD. And it’s a desire ALL HUMANITY shares. Whatever AGE you’ve lived in. Whatever country, or culture, or civilization, or education. Everyone’s wanted to EXPERIENCE GOD. They’ve followed rules or procedures or techniques/ for DRAWING NEAR TO him.
It might be through offering sacrifices, or through spiritual experiences. It might be through music, or meditation. It might be through walking through the bush. Or fasting for long periods of time. It might be through taking drugs like the Rastafarians. Or beating yourself with a whip, or letting yourself be crucified. Like people in the Philippines.
One guy in the Middle Ages even sat on top of a pole for years on end because he thought it would get him CLOSER TO GOD.
We ALL DO IT, because it’s part of OUR HUMAN MAKE-UP. We were CREATED for intimacy with God. It’s the way it was IN THE BEGINNING. When Adam and Eve WALKED with God.
And we want to RETURN to that closeness. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described it as the “god-sized hole in our consciousness”.
But how well do any of these methods actually WORK? How approachable IS God? CAN he be discovered, and known, through any of these ways?
Or do they all just reveal THE HUGE GAP between God and us. Is the LONGING for God/ all we can expect in this life? Is there any expectation that we truly can experience God?
The Problem of Distance
And it was no different EVEN WITH JUDAISM. Even though Israel were the MOST PRIVILEGED of nations. Chosen by God to be his precious possession out of all the other nations. Rescued from Egypt as his first-born son.
And even though God had come down and DWELT among his people. CAMPED in their midst – represented by the Tabernacle.
If ANYONE could expect to get close to God/ Israel was IT.
But for all God’s condescensions and accommodations. For all his efforts to come and BE CLOSE to his people. All that resulted was DISTANCE. And BARRIERS. SEPARATION. Pointlessness and frustration. It was THE PROBLEM OF DISTANCE.
Because the OLD WAY of meeting with God DIDN’T WORK. Ch 8 v13 calls it OBSOLETE. AGING. Soon to disappear.
Because, for all its ceremony. And there was RITUAL by THE BUCKET-LOAD. Literally. For all its regulations, the Jewish sacrificial system couldn’t deal with the basic problem of DISTANCE FROM GOD. Of sin. Of separation. Of A GUILTY CONSCIENCE that CONDEMNED you before God.
The start of Ch 9 describes the Tabernacle. And if you go back to Exodus 26 to 30, you can read the FULL description.
The OUTSIDE area was enclosed by a series of curtains on poles. It was called the OUTER COURT. 30 m long by 15 m wide. You could only enter it through the gate at one end.
As long as you were an Israelite, and you were ceremonially clean, you could come in THERE. And offer your sacrifices. But no closer.
Unless you were a PRIEST. From the tribe and family of Aaron. In which case you could go into the NEXT section. Also separated by curtains, and this time a roof. It was called the HOLY place. It’s described there in v2 of Heb 9. It was 10 m by 5 m. And you could only enter it through a door.
If you were a priest, you COULD GO IN THERE. And light the candles. And offer the consecrated bread. But no closer.
Unless you were … the HIGH PRIEST. The only human who could enter the MOST HOLY PLACE. Separated from the Holy Place by ANOTHER curtain. The VEIL. The room was only 5 m square. Very dark. No windows. Lit only by candles. Probably felt quite claustrophobic.
And in that room (v4) was the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s throne. God’s DWELLING PLACE.
And even though the High Priest could enter the room. There were strict conditions. Royal protocol. Look at them there in v7.
Only THE HIGH PRIEST. No substitutes allowed.
Only ONCE A YEAR. No other day was possible.
Only WITH BLOOD. Don’t bother coming empty-handed.
Barrier after barrier. Condition after condition. All separating you from God.
A constant reminder of a broken relationship.
And that was the POINT. The point of it all (v8) was to show how DISTANT God actually was. To emphasise THE PROBLEM OF DISTANCE. How far removed God was from people. How much their sin had separated them from God. A constant reminder of a broken relationship. V8
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.
In Ch 10 v 3, it says something similar
3 But those sacrifices ARE AN ANNUAL REMINDER of sins,
So many conditions and regulations that it just reinforced how IMPOSSIBLE it was to actually come CLOSE to God. Rather than SATISFYING their hunger for God/ all it did was make them realize how hungry they really were.
Like a mirage in the desert. Just makes you realize how THIRSTY you are. But does NOTHING to actually satisfy your thirst.
Day after day, year after year the priest would perform his duties. Cut off from the people. And all it would do/ would reinforce to the people how DISTANT they were from God. How sinful they were. How much they needed a REAL solution. That really worked.
A constant reminder of a broken relationship.
Like a child born as a result of adultery.
Imagine a husband who forgives his wife’s affair, only to discover several months later she’s carrying her lovers child.
Imagine the emotional turmoil for a husband to RAISE that child, and LOVE it as his own, all the time BEING REMINDED of the dreadful betrayal that brought it about. The bittersweet, and frustrating, emotions of closeness and intimacy and love, together with hurt and betrayal and sadness. Sadness at what MIGHT HAVE BEEN.
And it’s the same with the Tabernacle. Whetting the appetite for God – giving a glimpse of who he is, and how we can be close to him. But then slamming down the barriers on EXPERIENCING that closeness. Doing nothing but REMINDING the people of their distance from God.
Only A Copy
And what made it even worse/ was that it WASN’T EVEN GOD HIMSELF they were separated from. It was only a REPRESENTATION of God’s throne. A picture. A shadow. It was ONLY A COPY. Ch 8 v5.
Priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.
Which is where God’s REAL THRONE ROOM is. And people could get nowhere NEAR that.
They thought they were drawing closer to God. When the reality was something much less. It’s like queuing up all day to meet the Queen. Going through checkpoint after checkpoint. Security searches. Metal detectors. X-ray machines. Waiting in waiting rooms. And drafty hallways. Finally you get ushered into the room. Where there’s a gold chair.
And sitting on the chair is the Queen’s assistant assistant under-Secretary. Who says the Queen’s too busy to see you, but who promises to pass on your good wishes.
All that time. And you were only drawing near to a SHADOW.
A Useless Shadow
And just like a shadow. The Tabernacle couldn’t actually DO anything. It was USELESS. It couldn’t DEAL with the sin that was the cause of the distance from God in the FIRST place. That’s in v9 and 10.
The gifts and sacrifices offered at the Tabernacle WEREN’T ABLE TO CLEAR THE CONSCIENCES 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.
It explains it a bit more fully over at the start of Ch 10. Flip over there. V1
10:1 The law is only A SHADOW of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason IT CAN NEVER, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, MAKE PERFECT THOSE WHO DRAW NEAR TO WORSHIP. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have FELT GUILTY FOR THEIR SINS (or had a CONSCIOUSNESS of sin – it’s the same word as CONSCIENCE back in Ch 9). 3 BUT THOSE SACRIFICES ARE AN ANNUAL REMINDER OF SINS, 4 BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS TO TAKE AWAY SINS.
Animal sacrifices can NEVER actually DEAL with SINS. They’re very messy and dramatic and even violent. But they DON’T WORK. Because they only deal with THE OUTSIDE. EXTERNALS. That’s what it says back in Ch 9 v13.
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.
“What use are they, then?” you might ask.
God put them in place to help US. To drive us to him. In repentance. Begging forgiveness for our sin. To show us the lengths that had to be gone to in order to forgive sin. To show us its enormity.
But the sacrifices of the Tabernacle could never WASH AWAY the sin. Could never satisfy the just wrath of a righteous and perfect God.
A Better Cleanser
What was needed was A BETTER CLEANSER.
One of the top-selling books over the Christmas period. And still on the Dymocks best-seller list. Would you believe it? Is a book about household cleaning?
It’s by Shannon Lush, and it’s called “Spotless: Getting the Stains Out of Virtually Anything.”
The promo says this
Shannon Lush is the goddess of stain removal. Her adoring radio audience around the country know that whatever household ills afflict them can be cured by her encyclopaedic knowledge of the repair of stains, scratches and other disfigurements! Spotless is the essential book for the kitchen bookshelf. Each chapter addresses the stains, cleaning and household problems that may come about in each room of the house: the kitchen, laundry, bathroom, bedroom, children’s room – even outdoors on a deck or a patio. Spotless will be referred to again and again and again.
Shannon Lush might have solutions for virtually EVERY sort of stain. But I bet she can’t do anything about the STAIN of A GUILTY CONSCIENCE. Of the feeling of distance from God because of SIN.
Do you ever LONG for something that will DEAL with the INSIDE? That can get rid of your feelings of guilt? Make you FEEL clean? Maybe there’s a sin you committed years ago. Everyone’s forgotten about it, but YOU. Perhaps you’ve never actually TOLD anyone. And you’d LOVE for someone to be able to GET RID OF THE STAIN.
If that’s YOU, I’ve got GOOD NEWS. I don’t know whether the Israelites Longed for it. But we ARE told that GOD DID.
Back in Ch 8 it quotes Jeremiah 31, where God’s promised something NEW. A new way of dealing with people. One that will actually WORK. A better cleanser. Have a look at it there from v8.
What separates the New from the Old/ is that it’s going to do something about THE INSIDES. V10
10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws IN THEIR MINDS and write them ON THEIR HEARTS.
A genuine closeness. An intimacy that’s real on the inside. Because. A bit further down in v12.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
God will actually DEAL with the sin. Forgiven. Gone. Forgotten. And closeness can BEGIN. He will be their God. And they will be his people.
God longed for a better cleanser. A TRUE cleanser.
And so he sent Jesus. The TRUE priest. Into the TRUE Tabernacle. God’s HEAVENLY THRONE ROOM. To offer the TRUE sacrifice. His OWN blood. A sacrifice that would TRULY cleanse people from sin. Because it deals with our GUILT. Our CONSCIENCES. Look at Ch 9 v11.
11 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!
The TRUE sacrifice. Offered in our place. Only a PERFECT LIFE would do. Because any other person deserved death for their OWN sin.
But Jesus never sinned. And so, God counted his death as the acceptable punishment in our place. And so his wrath was satisfied. His forgiveness was won.
Guilt is gone. Consciences are cleansed. And closeness can be restored.
Is that a clean-ness YOU know? A freedom from guilt – a closeness to God – that’s your experience. It CAN be.
Today can be the start of a whole new CLEAN you. Whatever your past. Whatever your sin. All you need to do is to accept the offer of Jesus’ gift.
The Lettuce Patch
Most of us have already DONE that. Jesus HAS dealt with our blackness and sin. But that’s only the FIRST step. Because being washed clean now means we can DRAW CLOSE TO GOD. We can experience an intimacy – a connection with God – that’s not possible any other way.
What Jesus has done for us has REAL IMPLICATIONS for what we think and do about God. Have a look down at Ch 10 v19. I call it the LETTUCE patch because it says “LET US do this or that”.
19 Therefore, brothers, SINCE WE HAVE CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD with a SINCERE heart in FULL assurance of faith, having OUR HEARTS SPRINKLED to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
What does intimacy with God LOOK like? Is it about communing with nature? Or perhaps zoning out, meditating in some sort of mystical way? Is it about speaking in tongues, or falling down on the floor.
Intimacy with God is about THESE words. Look at them again in that section I just read. Do these words describe YOUR relationship with God?
Confidence, sincere heart, full assurance of faith, cleansed from guilt, holding unswervingly to hope.
And it all comes because Jesus, our High Priest, has won it on our behalf. Focus on what Jesus has done. THAT’S THE WAY TO EXPERIENCE CLOSENESS WITH GOD.
And it’s closeness to God that has effects in our relationships with other people too. Look at the next verse. V24. More lettuce.
24 And let us consider how we may spur ONE ANOTHER on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We have a RICH PRIVILEGE. We need to TAKE HOLD of it. And make sure OTHERS inherit that TOO.
Love and good deeds is what an intimate relationship with God LOOKS LIKE on the outside. They’re the sign of someone walking close to God.
We need to be encouraging each other to be SHOWING that. How are we DOING at those sorts of things? How LOVING are we towards each other, and towards those around us?
And while things are pretty easy for us here in Australia. Remember these Hebrews were being tempted to go back to Judaism because of PERSECUTION.
And so they’re WARNED NOT to deliberately turn away from Jesus.
And they’re reminded of how they USED to work out their relationship with God. V32. They stood their ground. Insulted and persecuted. Looked after their brothers and sisters in prison – even at the risk of imprisonment themselves!
And so the writer concludes. V35.
35 So DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE; (that’s confidence to approach God because of Jesus) it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And IF HE SHRINKS BACK, I will not be pleased with him.” 39 But we are NOT OF THOSE WHO SHRINK BACK and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
What does confidence in Jesus as our priest mean? Confidence in our closeness to God? CONFIDENCE IS THE OPPOSITE OF SHRINKING BACK.
Let me finish on THAT point. The Hebrews were tempted to SHRINK BACK. To withdraw into their world. To a safe world. A comfortable world. But to shrink back is the OPPOSITE of confidence.
Is your life showing CONFIDENCE in the same way? Or is it more about SHRINKING BACK?
Shrinking back is about staying quiet when Jesus is mentioned. Speaking up LESS than you did five years ago.
Shrinking back is about NOT suggesting your family reads the Bible and prays after dinner. You do that LESS than you did five years ago.
Shrinking back is about READING less. PRAYING less. And doing less around church. Because you’ve got a million excuses.
Shrinking back is about being LESS godly than you were 20 years ago. Because now you’re just tired and frustrated. A cranky old man or woman. Are you someone younger people are ATTRACTED TO – who they SEARCH OUT. Because you’re PATIENT and WISE and CONSIDERATE and SERVANT-HEARTED?
Or are you someone younger people AVOID? Because they never know if you’ll bite their head off. Or complain about something. Or put them in their place. Or are inflexible, and unwilling to listen to their point of view.
Are you an incredible shrinking man or woman of God? LESS than you were five years ago?
WE ARE NOT OF THOSE WHO SHRINK BACK!
Or is your life REFLECTING the confidence you have to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus? The full assurance of faith you have in your priest. The spotless white conscience you have when it comes to your guilt?
DRAW NEAR, Don’t SHRINK BACK!