Hebrews 9: The True Sanctuary

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 7, 2021
Hebrews 9 
 c2021

Taped at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 5, 2021

At the beginning of worship: 

So far, in the book of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to everything. He tops angels and folks like Moses as well as the temple priests. He’s divine, having come from and returned to God’s heavenly throne.

Last week, the author returned to a previous topic, Jesus as High Priest. This week and next, we’ll see what this means in terms of the sanctuary and the need for a sacrifice. 

Journey to the holy lands 

This past week I read a book that was part devotional and part historical. Lisa Deam, a medieval historian, authored 3000 Miles to Jesus.[1] She follows several pilgrims to the Holy Lands in the 13th and 14th Centuries. 

Traveling to the Holy Lands was quite a journey in those days. Think about someone coming from England. They’d cross the channel and walk or ride a horse across France. They had the Alps to climb. Then they’d head to Venice, where they’d secure passage on a boat to the Holy Lands. 

During this era, it goes without saying, there were no plush cruises. No umbrella drinks on the veranda. Sea travel was tough. And then, once they arrived along the coast of Palestine, they had deal with customs and hire a guide. They usually rode a donkey to Jerusalem. At this time, the Holy Lands were under the control of Muslims, which also created challenges. 

It goes without saying that many died on this journey, but a many made it and they inspired others.  

These pilgrims in the medieval era put up with all kinds of hardship for an opportunity to walk where Jesus’ walked. Some of them had euphoric experiences in Jerusalem, others were disappointed. I can understand such disappointment. They had this hope of connecting in a tangible way to Jesus. But 12 or 13 centuries after Jesus, Palestine wasn’t what they expected. 

We are pilgrims

Deams, throughout this book, reminds her readers that our lives are a pilgrimage. We long for an encounter with the divine. But we have to have faith and realize that such an encounter may only occur in the next world. We do not live in a perfect world. We are not called to be citizens here. We are not called to set down roots for sooner or later, we’ll have to move on. Instead, we’re called to live out our pilgrimage, whatever shape our journeys might take, knowing that our eternal destination is within another kingdom.  Even the church is transitory.[2] It’s a vehicle to help us reconnect with God. 

Today, in our text, we’ll see that while there is a purpose in earthly sanctuaries (like this one), the perfect sanctuary where Jesus works is beyond the present.

After the reading of Scripture: 

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone. 

This mantra came from Walter Hilton, a 14th Century Augustine monk, who wrote what might have been the “Lonely Planet Travel Guide” on pilgrimages, had such things existed back then.[3]

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.

Remember this mantra. How many of us live up to it? We only come to such faith by believing in the superiority of Jesus. Even then, it’s hard. But, sooner or later, our pilgrimage on this earth will come to an end and we’ll stand before the throne of God. At such a time, we’ll be naked. I’m not talking about the lack of clothes so much as being totally exposed. Our only hope will be in Jesus.

The old tabernacle 

In our passage today, we learn of a comparison between our earthly sanctuaries and the true sanctuary in heaven. When the covenant was made with Moses and the Hebrew people at Sinai, God gave them instruction on how to create a tabernacle.

This was one large tent. Portable, they could take it with them as they journeyed in the wilderness. The plans for this “tent-shrine”[4] is laid out in the 25th through the 27th chapters of Exodus. I encourage you to read through this at some point. The detail is exact. The type of wood to be used in construction is detailed. The “furniture” that occupied the tent, and the fabric that adorned the walls are specified. 

The design called for a curtain created out of blue, purple and crimson yarns and twisted fine linen. Woven into this curtain was a cherubin. It hung by golden hooks from a gold clad acacia wood rod, held up by silver posts.[5] Behind this was the “Holy of Holies,” which was only to be entered by the High Priest, once a year. 

An imperfect image of a perfect reality

But this tent/sanctuary was only an imperfect image of a perfect reality. That holy chamber, where earthly priests sought forgiveness for our sin, with dried blood of animals all around, wasn’t able to make them good or perfect. According to verse 7, its effect was only on unintentional sin. But the heavenly counterpart to the early tabernacle is able to provide, not a once-a-year cleansing, but eternal redemption because Christ himself offered his own blood for our behalf.

Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive not to sin because Christ has forgiven us. In the next chapter, our preacher will strongly condemn such thoughts.[6]

Thankfully, our hope is not in the tent of the first covenant, but in the new covenant. We need access to this truer tent, which Christ supplies. We also need to be aware that when we accept the first tent, the early one, to be the real tent, “our human hopes are misplaced.”[7] The tent, like the church, can become an idol. 

The Church

This passage has something to say to the church, of which we’re a part. Like the tent of the first covenant, the church we see on earth has been created by humans. It started with the Apostles being sent out by the resurrected Jesus to tell world of the good news. And it’s done a lot of good in the world, but our slate isn’t exactly perfect. Our ancestors fought wars over what Jesus meant by one statement or another. We are often quick to condemn those who don’t see things like we do.  Sadly, our churches often lack grace. 

We need to take ourselves less seriously. And we need to realize that salvation isn’t from the church itself. Jesus provides salvation. The church is just a messenger, and an imperfect one at that. However, our marching orders are important. The church is the vehicle Christ instituted through the disciples to continue his work in the world. 

The Church isn’t to be worshipped

So, while it is important for us to be in the church, we must not worship the church. We should acknowledge that there is no perfect church on the earth. This goes for Bluemont and Mayberry and all other churches in our neighborhood. 

Sadly, we don’t have to look very far to confirm the church’s imperfection. After all, look at all the major ministries that have shown us such truth: In the last few years, there’s been Mars Hill in Seattle, Willow Creek outside of Chicago, Hillsong in the northeast, Menlo Park out West, among many others. 

We need to realize that this side of glory, we’re never going to be perfect. And we need to be thankful that our salvation isn’t in our doing but in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. 

A longing for God

At best, the church gives people a longing for God. God’s book, the Bible, must be central. Our lives must be gracious and godly. If we can give people a taste of God, God’s Holy Spirit can take care of the rest. While our worship fails to live up to the heavenly glory we read about in Revelation,[8] that’s not a reason for us to give up. Instead, we help people have a small taste of what’s to come. We know Jesus has gone before us, pulling back that curtain that shielded us from coming into God’s presence.  

Baseball and being close to the action

Let me tell you a story. Baseball season is almost here. Spring training is underway. When I was a seminary student in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed going to the old Three Rivers Stadium and watching the Pirates. Wednesday night games were a favorite. If you were willing to sit up in the nosebleed section, where you actually had a good view of the whole field, it was only a buck. A buck to watch the Bucs.[9] This was back in the ‘80’s. 

One Saturday afternoon, I was willing to pay the big bucks. The Dean’s secretary and I were going on a date to a game. Back then, the Pirates were so bad, you didn’t have to buy tickets in advance. When I picked her up, she asked if I had tickets. “No,” I said. “We’ll get ‘em at the stadium.” She smiled and handed me two tickets. I looked down and couldn’t believe it. The seats were right behind home plate, just five rows up. These seats weren’t available to just anyone. I was shocked, humbled, and impressed. 

Her brother, who was in management at the William Penn hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, heard we were going to the game. Since the hotel had these seats reserved for the season, and nobody had claimed them, he gave them to us. It was exciting to be brought so close to the action. 

As a church we are to bring people closer to God. Just as I was brought close to the action that Saturday in Pittsburgh, in our own limited ways, we are to help people come closer to Jesus. But we will still remain separated until that time, to continue with this metaphor, when we find ourselves not just inside the park but on the field with Jesus.  

Conclusion

So, don’t worry that your church is not perfect. Jesus will take care of it. The same goes with us. Don’t worry that you’re imperfect. Jesus will take care of that, too. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be better. Yes, we are all to strive to be better while we depend on the love of Jesus. For in the end, when our pilgrimage is over, we must strand there exposed before the throne. Hopefully, at such a time, we can say (can you say it with me?):

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.  Amen. 


[1] Lisa Deam, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021). 

[2] See Revelation 21:22. There is no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem with the presence of God. 

[3] Deams, 20, 68.

[4] The term “tent-shrine” is used in the footnotes for this passage in The New Interpreter’s Bible: NRSV. 

[5] Exodus 26:15-37. 

[6] See Hebrews 10:26. See also Hebrews 6:4-6 and Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2006), 223. 

[7] Johnson, 225. 

[8] See especially Revelation 7:9-17.

[9] The nickname for the Pirates, “Bucs,” is shortened from Buccaneer.

4 thoughts on “Hebrews 9: The True Sanctuary”

  1. Feel like a broken record, Jeff, but I enjoyed your words. I really liked the baseball element that was included in your sermon. Being a lifelong baseball fan, I remember how glorious it was getting so close to the action at a baseball stadium. Take care.

  2. Nice said. I do worry that my church isn’t perfect. I should have thought that it can’t be perfect any more than I can be. But, our priest–at least the one who was there when I quit–that was more about misguiding. Just didn’t work.

    • I’m sorry you had issues with your priest. You might try another church. It seems even in Catholic circles, there are “church shoppers.” I was a good friend with the priest in the town where my first congregation was located. It was a ski town and we often skied together. But he complained of the locals who would drive 20 minutes to a small church served some monks. There homilies were only 5-10 minutes instead of Don’s normal 15-20 minutes. He couldn’t believe that people would travel 40 minutes to shave 10-15 minutes off the sermon!

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