“We have an altar from which those who minister
at the earthly tabernacle have no right to eat.”
Several years ago, I heard a sermon where the Pastor spoke about the difference between the Old and New Covenants. He explained it like this: The Old Covenant was an agreement between God and a nation. The conditions of the covenant depended on whether the Israelites continued to obey the law or disobeyed. Deuteronomy 28 promises blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. The New Covenant is an agreement between God the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The terms of the covenant are met completely by God himself. We who believe are beneficiaries of the New Covenant.
The book of Hebrews is largely a book of the theology of the New Covenant. The writer speaks of Jesus’ priesthood as being different and superior to the priesthood of the Old Covenant. It’s not from the line of Aaron but “after the order of Melchizedek.” The writer also explains that the regulations and sacrifices were not able to make one righteous. Hebrews 9:10: “They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.”
Hebrews 10 explains that the law was only a shadow of what was coming but not the realities themselves (v. 1), and that the sacrifices offered yearly served as an annual reminder of sins. V. 4, “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Then the writer explains how Jesus Christ offered himself once and for all and there was no longer any need for the shadows.
“Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.”
And this is why we can come to the altar while those of the old order could not. They had to come to the altar on the basis of their deeds and with the blood of animals. We come on the merits of what Jesus has done on our behalf. We could never have the right to come to this new altar on our own merit. Isaiah 64:6 says that “all our righteousness are as filthy rags.” The only righteousness we can bring is the righteousness of the One who lived a perfect life and died in our place. In the words of that old hymn, Rock of Ages:
“Nothing in my hands I bring
Simply to Thy cross I cling.”
So “let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).