October 5, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. How many people have read the Bible through from start to finish? I'm sure there are a number of persons here who have already read it several times over. But, then again, there may also be more than a few who have gotten frustrated while trying to do so, aren't there? The first frustrating passage is nearly always the same one. You will start reading with Genesis, and there are not too many people who get frustrated in Genesis. You make it up to Exodus. You progress into it okay until about half way. But, when you come to chapter twenty, it turns into text about the laws. Many different regulations are next in it. Around this spot it becomes hard to deal with. Then you finally get into the building of the tabernacle. The tabernacle refers to the place of worship. The detailed instructions for the building of the tabernacle are written at length. Then the regulations regarding the priests are next. The text is about what the priests wear and the rituals that the priests perform. If you are going to get frustrated, this is usually the spot. When you've read it, you can't help but wonder what in the world does this mean. I'd guess you've had an experience like that before.
The Curtain That Separates God and Human
2. So then, words on salvation from Jesus are written in the passage that we read today, and words with something about the tabernacle and ceremonies are found in it. In order to understand this one named Jesus Christ, it seems like it is very important that one has read from the Old Testament. Today, when you get back home, without fail please read Exodus chapter twenty-five. The words from today have to do with that tabernacle and those rituals.
3. There are detailed stipulations set forth in the law of Moses about how to build the place of worship and the rituals in it. They were not supposed to build it just any way they wanted it. And they were not supposed to worship the Lord in just any manner they felt like. We did not read from the book of Exodus today, but just a little before in the passage that we read today the text spoke simply on how the tabernacle used to be built, and so let's take a look at that. I will read to you [starting] from chapter nine and verse one.
4. "Well, the first covenant also had in it stipulations on worship and the earthly sanctuary. That is, the first tabernacle was established, and in it were set up the lamp stand, the table, and the bread of offering. This tent is called the Holy Place. And then behind the second curtain, there was a tent called the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies. In it were the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant completely covered with gold, and inside it were the gold jar containing the manna, the staff of Aaron that had sprouted, and the tablets of the covenant, and also, on top of the ark, the glorious figures of cherubim had covered the seat of the expiation. In regard to these things thus mentioned, we cannot now speak on them one by one," (verses one through five).
5. In the text we find "the first tent" and "the tent called the Holy of Holies," but this does not mean to say that there are two tents. A single tent is partitioned in two. Apart from the curtain at the entrance, "the second curtain" lies in the middle. The inside is partitioned by means of it. The front side is "the first tent" and is also called "the Holy Place, the sanctuary," and the other side of the second curtain is called "the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies." The ark of the covenant was placed in the Holy of Holies. It contained inside it the stone tablets upon which the ten commandments were written. Also, the cover for it was called "the seat of expiation" or "the seat of atonement."
6. In the book of Exodus the following is written about this "seat of atonement." "You will place this seat of atonement upon the ark and make it a cover; you will store the tablets of the commands that I gave you in the ark. I will visit with you there, between the pair of cherubim upon the ark of the commands, that is, from the seat of the atonement, and I will speak to you about each matter that I will command the people of Israel," (Exodus 25:21-22). In brief, "the seat of the atonement," which was in the innermost part of the Holy of Holies, was the very place where God made his presence apparent, and it was appointed as the place where human beings were to meet with God.
7. But, usually, no one could go into that place of God's presence, the Holy of Holies which had the seat of the atonement. Even the priests administering the service could not enter it. I read to you up to Hebrews chapter nine and verse five, which I read just ago, but after it, it continues as follows. I will read verses six and [seven]. "When the aforementioned is in place, the priests always go into the first tent, to perform the service. But once each year, only the high priest goes into the second tent, and he always carries in the blood to offer for his and the people's errors," (verses six and seven).
8. The priests enter only the first tent and only it. They do not enter into the inner part of the most holy place. Only the high priest will enter it. What's more, it is just once per year. Before the high priest enters the most holy place, a sacrifice for the atonement of sin is slain. Carrying its blood in his hands, the high priest goes into the most holy place. He carries the blood of the atonement in his hands in order to make atonement for his and the people's sins. That's right. In order for the sins of the priest and the people to be forgiven, he performs in a precise way the prescribed sacrificial ritual of the atonement and then he enters the most holy place carrying the blood.
9. To say it completely the opposite way, it is that even if the atonement for sin was done exactly as prescribed, even the priests could only go as far as "the first tent." Much less even could anyone outside the priesthood go in. In sum, in a true sense, they were not able to come before the sight of God. They could not stand in God's presence. There was constantly a partitioning curtain before the people.
10. In this way, you could say, there was curtain of separation between God and human. What in the world did this structure of this tent from the period of the Old Testament mean? In fact, this structure doesn't change even after it was no [longer] a tent and the temple [building] was established. Even in the temple which Solomon had built, even in the temple that was rebuilt after that, the dividing curtain of separation [still] existed authoritatively in front of the most holy place. Between God and human there was a dividing curtain. What in the world did that mean!?
Worship And The Conscience
11. The text says that this structure of the tent is "a simile of the present time," (verse nine). It is a symbol of something. It stands for something. In fact, this "something" is the problem of the conscience. The next part of the text goes like this. "That is, even if offerings and sacrifices are offered, they cannot make the conscience of the worshipper complete," (verse nine).
12. Well, why is a text about the conscience found in a place where matters of worship are being given? Does "worship" and "the conscience" have anything to do with each other? What do you all think about this? I think it is easy to figure it out if you look at it from the opposite direction. Please imagine a kind of worship that has nothing at all to do with the conscience. I have an extreme example for you. Let's suppose that a person is living a self-indulgent lifestyle. Let's suppose that he has done some obviously bad things. He goes to a sanctuary, a holy place to worship God. Unaware of any pains whatsoever in his conscience, he praises God, he prays and then he goes home. His worshipping of God had nothing to do with his conscience at all. -- So, was he truly worshipping God? Was he truly in the presence of God? I feel that, any way you look at it, [he did] not [have] a true worship in the presence of God.
13. Today we did a responsive reading from Psalm fifty-one. What were the first words from that Psalm? "Oh God, please have mercy upon me, with your compassion. With your deep mercy, please wipe away my sin of rebellion. Wash away each of my faults, cleanse me from my sin," (Psalm 51:3-4). This is the figure of a person trying to come into the true presence of God. When a person seeks for the true and the living God and not a mere religious rite, the human conscience cries out asking for forgiveness and mercy; because the person knows in a deep place in his or her heart that everything lies open in the sight of God. How can a person appear before God unless he or she has God forgive them?
14. Therefore, animals were slain and sacrifices for the atonement of sin were repeatedly performed in a tent as a place of worship. However, in Old Testament ceremonies, the requirement of the conscience was never perfectly met. Just as the dividing tent before the most holy place symbolized, even though so much animal blood was shed, even though so many atonement rites were done, the conscience was not satisfied. The curtain still hung between [it and] God. It could not draw near. That was the experience as far as people's consciences. In that sense, both the priestly system of the Old Testament period and the rituals according to animal sacrifices were only imperfect. The structure of the tent clearly shows this.
15. However, the time for the end of that which is imperfect had come. The epistle to the Hebrews states this with great joy: That the true high priest has come, who was not the imperfect high priest of the Old Testament period. And that the eternal atonement had been accomplished, not the imperfect ritual of the atonement for sin. Please look at verses eleven [and twelve]. "However though, since Christ has come as the high priest of the grace which has already been fulfilled, not made by human hands, that is, not of this world, and greater yet, through a more perfect tent, not according to the blood of goats and young bulls, but according to his own blood, he entered into the holy place just once, and he has accomplished the eternal atonement," (verses eleven and twelve).
16. We could conclude, in that sense, in the Old Testament period, in the tabernacle and the temple, that the ritual for the atonement of sin that came through repeated animal sacrifices was a sort of "preview or trailer." The eternal ritual, done "just once," which was foretold countless times through the repeated ceremonies through the priests, was at last mediated. It was the perfect atonement. It was the eternal atonement which will never need to be repeated again.
17. Furthermore, it states that the blood of Christ causes [us] "to worship the living God having cleansed our consciences from dead works." The curtain that long ago divided God and human is torn and pulled down. Therefore, we have peace and can go directly to God. By recognizing sin as sin and by seeking a cleansed conscience, a righteous conscience sensitive to sin, we can go to God even more than ever. A conscience sensitive to sin will not ever block one from standing truly in the presence of God; because the perfect atonement has already been made; because at the cross you have perfect forgiveness.
18. To make it short, it also means that we don't need to pervert our consciences and claim that sin is not sin, or to deceive and self-justify our wickedness. Nor do we need to numb our consciences trying so hard not to feel that sin is sin. Nor do we need to seek idols to worship, which has nothing to do with the conscience. Nor do we need to seek a godless substitute in which there is no need to sense the guilt of the conscience. The blood of Christ cleanses our consciences from dead works. This is how a person is led to true worship. Through the blood of Christ, we are certainly led into true fellowship with God and we can live worshipping the living God.