When reading a book like Hebrews, it is very important not to let the chapter divisions break the flow of the text. Hebrews was written as one communication, and at times the chapter divisions can interrupt the train of thought. This is never clearer than when reading chapters 5-10. This entire section of scripture is best understood when read together and, when that is done, a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ as our high priest begins not only to appear but to expand and become clearer. His sacrifice for us was the ‘greater and more perfect tabernacle’ (Hebrews 9:11) and the fulfillment of the ceremonial washings and ritual sacrifices.
There is one section of chapter 9 I want to point out, and it is found in verses 9 and 10.
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. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
It is interesting the language used here by the writer of Hebrews as he states that the gifts and the sacrifices that were being offered to God fulfilled the ritualistic requirements God had put in place but could never ‘clear the conscience of the worshiper.’ The author of Hebrews knew he spoke to Jews and knew how important the ritual sacrifices and cleansings were to them. He was probably a Jew himself before coming to salvation in Christ. That would mean he knew what he was writing about. He knew the sacrifices and offerings at the Tabernacle could not assuage his guilty conscience. Their consciences (if they were not seared – 1 Timothy 4:2) could not be cleared with just ritualistic obedience and religious activity. Today we experience the same thing.
When I was a boy of 12, a couple of my ‘friends, ’ and I were in a convenience store. They were both a couple of years older than me, and before we went into the store, they had convinced me to go in and steal something, bragging they had done it multiple times. So, bowing to peer pressure and with my heart pounding inside my chest I walked around the inside of the store and eventually pocketed a pack of gum and left with them. Despite them congratulating me I almost became physically sick. I could not enjoy the gum, and in fact, that was the end of my life of crime due to my very healthy conscience that was nurtured by two very honest parents. My conscience was convicting me so strongly I was miserable.
The writer of Hebrews is stating clearly that the ritualistic sacrifices could never pacify the guilt and/or shame most people experience when they are trying to live by the letter of the law and fail! Even making those sacrifices and knowing you had done what God had required of you to be cleansed of the sin could not take away that conviction of the conscience. I can almost visualize a man standing there as a small lamb was killed in front of him, reminding him that this death and blood had to be paid for his sin. I’ve heard it said when a prisoner is pardoned by a State Governor of the President most live miserable lives afterward and many commit suicide because the ‘pardon’ did not remove their guilt and living with guilt is a terrible thing.
However, let me introduce you to GRACE! This entire chapter of Hebrews outlines just how amazing and freeing grace really is through the tremendous sacrifice of our Savior. Jesus’ sacrifice for us did something a sacrificial offering in the Old Covenant could never do and wasn’t designed to do. It frees us from the guilt and the shame and the condemnation we experience from ourselves and, sometimes from others. I can look back on my worst sins (yes, I have committed sins far worse than stealing a pack of gum) without experiencing the destroying trio of guilt, shame, and condemnation. Why? It is because my sin doesn’t define me; who I am in Christ does! To emphasize this point the writer of Hebrews says this in the very next chapter in verse 22:
“Let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Let us rejoice every hour of every day for this amazing gift of grace that frees us from the guilt of our sins and gives us the ability to walk as adopted sons and daughters of our risen King, Jesus Christ.