A Better Sacrifice (May 26)

Hebrews 8:1-7; 9:1, 6-14

Comment

The Mercer Dictionary of the Bible describes the ritual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement:

“After the preparations were completed, the initial stage of the atonement itself (Lev 16:11-14) involved the high priest’s offering a bullock as a sin offering for himself and for the priesthood. After filling his censer with live coals from the altar, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with incense and the blood of the bull. The smoke of the incense created a cloud covering the mercy seat, while the blood of the bull was sprinkled on the mercy seat once and in front of the mercy seat seven times.

In the next stage, atonement was made for the people and ceremonial cleansing was offered for the instruments of the cult (Lev 16:15-19). The goat chosen by lot for Yahweh was slain as a purification offering for the people and its blood sprinkled successively on the Holy of Holies, the Holy Place, and the outer court.

The culminating stage of the ritual (Lev 16:20-22) involved the high priest’s laying his hands on the head of the second goat and confessing over it the sins of ancient Israel. This goat, commonly called the scapegoat, was solemnly led into the wilderness, thus removing the guilt of the people.”

Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995), p. 74.

Reading the Scripture

Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:

•    If you are like me, you might find Hebrews difficult to follow at times. Maybe The Message version will help (maybe not):

Hebrews 8: 1-2 In essence, we have just such a high priest: authoritative right alongside God, conducting worship in the one true sanctuary built by God.

3-5 The assigned task of a high priest is to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and it’s no different with the priesthood of Jesus. If he were limited to earth, he wouldn’t even be a priest. We wouldn’t need him since there are plenty of priests who offer the gifts designated in the law. These priests provide only a hint of what goes on in the true sanctuary of heaven, which Moses caught a glimpse of as he was about to set up the tent-shrine. It was then that God said, “Be careful to do it exactly as you saw it on the Mountain.”

6-7 But Jesus’ priestly work far surpasses what these other priests do, since he’s working from a far better plan. If the first plan—the old covenant—had worked out, a second wouldn’t have been needed.

9: 1 That first plan contained directions for worship, and a specially designed place of worship.

6-10 After this was set up, the priests went about their duties in the large tent. Only the high priest entered the smaller, inside tent, and then only once a year, offering a blood sacrifice for his own sins and the people’s accumulated sins. This was the Holy Spirit’s way of showing with a visible parable that as long as the large tent stands, people can’t just walk in on God. Under this system, the gifts and sacrifices can’t really get to the heart of the matter, can’t assuage the conscience of the people, but are limited to matters of ritual and behavior. It’s essentially a temporary arrangement until a complete overhaul could be made.

Pointing to the Realities of Heaven

11-15 But when the Messiah arrived, high priest of the superior things of this new covenant, he bypassed the old tent and its trappings in this created world and went straight into heaven’s “tent”—the true Holy Place—once and for all. He also bypassed the sacrifices consisting of goat and calf blood, instead using his own blood as the price to set us free once and for all. If that animal blood and the other rituals of purification were effective in cleaning up certain matters of our religion and behavior, think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.

•    Audio:
o    The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o    Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the library and the church office.)

•    Video:
o    WatchWord Bible, New Testament on DVD is available in the library. (These videos display and read the text in Contemporary English Version with background pictures, video and sound. Not exactly dramatized or all that exciting, but could be another way to read the text.)

Teaching Suggestions

•    This is a visual passage. Display illustrations of the Tabernacle used during the wilderness wanderings:
o    Poster sized color labeled illustration of the Tabernacle. In the library.
o    The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1963), p. 823. In my office.
o    Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), p. 1317. In my office.
o    An illustration with a cut away view of the Tabernacle has been posted on the webpage.

•    The Formations Teaching Guide (p.22) refers to a hymn, “Not All the Blood of Beasts” in “An Unfamiliar Hymn.” The words and music can be found here: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/107 and a video of the music and lyrics is posted on the webpage.

•    The Formations study guide refers to Yom Kippur, the one day a year when the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to make sacrifice for the people. A video describing the modern day observance of Yom Kippur is posted on the webpage: http://video.about.com/judaism/What-Is-Yom-Kippur-.htm

Resources

I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons. Other resources are kept in my office.

•    The Tabernacle:
o    Poster sized color labeled illustration of the Tabernacle. In the library.
o    The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing, 1963), p. 823. In my office.
o    Holman Bible Dictionary (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1991), p. 1317. In my office.
o    An illustration with a cut away view of the Tabernacle has been posted on the webpage.

•    For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o    Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o    Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)