And having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (Heb 10:21-22).
It took Sir Robert Anderson, Scotland Yard chief detective, to shed the following light on these verses, “It is noteworthy that the only book of the New Testament which tells of the High-priesthood of Christ never once refers explicitly to the priesthood of His people; for it is as worshippers that we are bidden to draw near.”1 That plain sense from Hebrews ought to speak to the common error of today’s so-called worship wars. It is often proposed that in our worship, we are the officiators and God is the audience. I would think such a statement would sound odd to any fair-minded worshiper who has read the book of Hebrews. As Anderson noted, it is not as believer-priests that we draw nigh to God in the light of the heavenly tabernacle, but as thankful observers of the officiating ministry of the only true and faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ. It is only He who is worthy to offer that which is acceptable to God.
William Newell, in similar fashion, wrote,
Now, why a Priest? Let me ask in answer, Would you like to go into the presence of God as an independent one—redeemed indeed by the blood of Christ, but set free to go on your own way forever? You know you would not if you are one of God’s own. Your union with Christ forbids such a thought. And His priestly work draws the heart. Weaklings are we, passing through a world over which Satan is still the prince, and living in a age of which he is the god—in a world that has not changed since it joined in the cry against Christ: “Crucify Him!” Do we not need help? Ah, we need nothing else! . . . Yes, we need a Priest, and we have a Priest, thank God, a Great Priest over the house of God (vs. 21). Let us mark, however, that we do not serve Him as Priest: He serves us.2
The more we begin to intrude upon the session of Christ in the heavenlies (where the rest of us are “seated” as observers, not standing as officiators, Eph. 2:6), the more we either turn the biblical clock back to Mosaic worship or the historical clock back to Roman worship. In the book I reviewed this month, David Bebbington shows how the Romantic era enhanced the coming of Liberalism in the late nineteenth century by causing evangelical churches to reinstitute liturgical practices into their services. The Eucharist was so beautiful and “became more frequent, more dignified and more dramatic . . . The priest, consciously acting as an intermediary between the people and the Almighty . . . Placed lit candles on the Communion table . . . He might wear medieval vestments . . . Initially all of this alteration of practice was anathema to Evangelicals. It was condemned, as by Edward Garbett at the Islington Clerical conference in 1868, as ‘a growing tendency to assimilate our worship to that of Rome.’”3
I have read worse things than these by today’s emergent church leaders as well as others who seem to need high-church, liturgical devices in order to have a “meaningful” worship service. No wonder we hear of so many people returning to Orthodox or even Catholic services because of their “rich meaning and symbolism.” It has been my contention for a long time that today’s contemporary services are doing the same with sights and sounds, trying to enhance the worship service by modern audio/visual icons, liturgies, and priestly “worship leaders.”
The book of Hebrews constantly contrasts the earthly tabernacle/temple with the heavenly tabernacle. The writer in no way encourages believers to return to the sights and sounds of the temple but rather to leave those shadows and patterns for the reality of the heavenly worship. It was difficult for some to leave the liturgy and rich symbolism and come to the simple congregational worship of the believers. But the writer cuts no deals between sight and faith, Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul (Heb. 10:38-39).
It is difficult for us as well to read of the detailed tabernacle worship and not want to recreate the patterns of things in the heavens rather than have the heavenly things themselves and better sacrifices than these (9:23). But the point of the whole book is for the New Testament believer to walk through these truths by faith, continually understanding that our salvation depends on the service that Christ has and is performing for us. That is why I have said that today we do not come together to worship, we are worshipers who come together. Our worship doesn’t start and stop on Sunday but is continual just as His intercession. Our congregational gatherings are in simple spirit and truth. Whether prayers, songs, readings, ordinances or preaching, these are only acknowledgements of a greater and more lasting service which is going on in heaven. By God’s good grace we will one day be dismissed from this rehearsal down here and be allowed to enter the reality up there, taking our seat among the elders and praising Him Who is worthy, for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation (Rev. 5:9).
Using the same types that the writer of Hebrews uses I invite you to take a walk with me through the old tabernacle, realizing that by faith we are following Christ in the reality.
The altar of sacrifice. This is the brazen altar where tabernacle worship began, outside the door of the tent (Ex. 27:1). Our altar of judgment for sin (“brazen”) is the cross of Calvary where our sacrifice, neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood (9:12) He was once offered to bear the sins of many (9:28). We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle (13:10). Modern legalists have no right to bring their contemporary liturgies to this altar! Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach (13:13).
The laver. The priests had to pass by the laver and wash their hands and feet before entering the holy place (Ex. 30:18-21). If they did not wash they would die (Ex. 40:30-32). We follow Christ, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water (10:22). Unger called this, “a type of Christ cleansing the believer-priest from the defilement of sin (John 13:2-10; Eph. 5:25-27).”4 We know this as our confession, not the washing of the whole body (Jn 13:10) but of the feet that get dirty on the road.
The candlestick. The lampstand stood inside the tabernacle (Ex. 25:31), or as our writer says, the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the sanctuary (9:2). There was no natural light inside the holy place and this seven-fold lampstand shed the only light for the priest’s work. Our light is shed by the Holy Spirit, the Oil of God’s presence within us. He illuminates the Word of God as Christ’s Substitute and Comforter.
The table of showbread. On the opposite side of the holy place was the table of showbread; grain which had been crushed and baked in fire to give life to the eater. Christ is the Bread of heaven, whether by the living Word or the written Word. The Word is our sustenance and food. It is the Word of God that is still living and powerful and more piercing than a two-edged sword. It searches us to the depth of our very lives (4:12-13).
The altar of incense. This altar was also in the holy place and marked the place of intercession as the incense rose up to God (Ex. 30:1). Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” on this altar that God had forbidden and were killed for it (Lev. 10:1-11). Nothing can intercede for the believer but his great High Priest because He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (7:25). The book of Revelation pictures this heavenly altar continually burning before God the Father with the prayers of the persecuted saints on earth coming up before Him (Rev. 8:3, 41). Isaiah saw this heavenly altar and its smoke filled God’s temple (Isa. 6:6).
After following Christ from the altar of sacrifice, our own moment of salvation, through our washing of sanctification, the reading of the Word of God and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, now we come confidently to God with a prayer life that avails much in our behalf. For the Tribulation saints, the prayers from this altar shake heaven and earth!
The veil of the temple. The veil separated human priests from the very presence of God as He abode above the cherubim in the holy of holies (Ex. 26:31). No man could pass this veil and live but the high priest and that once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people (9:7). But now we enter with boldness . . . Into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh (10:19-20). It was through His humanity that Christ had to pass for us, dying the awful payment for our sins on His cross. It is a new way. The word means “freshly slain” and Newell says, “He is evermore freshly-slain. Not, mark it, slain anew, but there before God Who inhabiteth eternity, as His Lamb, provided in His infinite love, [as] just now slain!”5 And can it be that I should gain such an interest in the Savior’s blood?
The holy of holies. This most holy place was beyond the first holy place (Ex. 25:17). It contained the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat (Ex. 25:17-22) of which God said, And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat (22). Our writer said, and over it the cherubim of glory shadowing the mercy seat (Heb 9:5). Of course, “mercy seat” is translated from the same root as our word “propitiation.” John wrote, And he is the propitiation for our sins (1 Jn 2:2). The wrath of God is removed and God is propitiated when we have applied Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Rather than condemnation for our sin we find communion with God. When our writer urges us, Let us draw near (10:22), he is inviting us to follow Jesus from the altar of sacrifice all the way through into the holy of holies and commune with God the Father who said, And I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters saith the Lord Almighty (2 Cor. 6:18).
And So . . . .
Our worship is not of sights and sounds or emotional highs or lows. The writer of Hebrews would go on to say that we are not come unto mount Sinai with its fire and blackness, the sound of a trumpet and voices (12:18); but we are come to mount Zion which is the heavenly Jerusalem and unto the company of heavenly angels and saints and, yes, our Lord Jesus Christ (12:22). Our worship is in spirit and in truth. We understand these great truths of Scripture and we live in the light of them every moment of every day. After all, Christ is conducting that heavenly worship service for us every moment of every day!
Some years ago I cut out this story from The Sword of the Lord:
A Methodist preacher in Colorado had a son named Paul. Paul was told that if ever he got a chance to hear D.L. Moody preach, he must do it. One day Paul heard that Moody was to preach in Denver where Paul lived. He did his best to get a ticket, but when he reached the building it was filled, and the ushers would not admit him. While he was standing outside in great disappointment, a chunky man came along and asked him if he wanted to get in. “Yes,” said Paul, “but I can’t.” “Take hold of my coattail,” said the man, “and hang on.” So he got in and was led clear to the front. He had been hanging to the coat of Moody himself! The young man was Paul Rader.
When we attach ourselves to Christ’s coattails in the heavenly tabernacle, He’ll lead us all the way to the front where we’ll commune with Him.Notes: 1. Sir Robert Anderson, Types in Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1978) 74. 2. William Newell, Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1947) 348. 3. David Bebbington, The Dominance of Evangelicalism (Downer’s Grove: IVP, 2005) 154. 4. Merrill Unger, “Laver,” Unger’s Bible Dictionary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966) 646. 5. Newell, 345.