Welcome to the Mountjoy Ministries Blog

This blog was authored by Bryan W. Sheldon, author and Bible teacher. His books are listed below. The studies in the blog are offered in the desire that they may be helpful in directing readers to the truths contained in the Bible.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

The Messiah and the Day of Atonement

Historically the Messiah fulfilled the symbolism of the Day of Atonement when He offered Himself a sacrifice for sin on Golgotha. Because of that, the ceremonies of the Day of Atonement are at the heart of the letter to the Hebrews. There, the writer presents the Messiah as a High Priest. Writing of Jesus, the author declares, “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Heb. 2:17)

The service of this High Priest, while based on the Aaronic priesthood, is different, is higher, and is better. He is a Melchizedekian High Priest, that is, a King/Priest. Since the king had to come from Judah and the High Priest from the tribe of Levi, the priests of the family of Aaron could not hold both anointed offices. But Jesus, of the tribe of Judah and appointed High Priest by God, holds both offices simultaneously. He is a King/Priest like Melchizedek, and because He is eternal, His priesthood is forever. The writer to the Hebrews made the point that since the priesthood of the Messiah is greater/higher/better, it replaced the Aaronic priesthood. And because it is an eternal priesthood, it will never itself, be replaced.

Even so, he used the activity of the Aaronic High Priest on the Day of Atonement to demonstrate the greatness of the work of Christ. The sacrifice of the Messiah on Golgotha was likened to the blood sacrifice in the outer court, the priests’ court, but declared to be superior because it obtained eternal redemption; whereas the Levitical sacrifice had to be repeated annually because it only had a limited value. The Levitical atoning sacrifice is stated in Hebrews 9:7, “But into the second part (the Holiest of All) the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood” (Heb. 9:7) while the superior sacrifice of Christ is identified in verse 12 of the same chapter: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).

In explaining the ministry Christ has taken up, the writer to the Hebrews focuses on the distinction between the true sanctuary, in which Christ is now active, and the earthly sanctuary, which was a mere shadow of the heavenly. The priests’ daily service in the outer chamber and the yearly entrance into the Holy Place by the High Priest, indicated that this earthly service was ineffectual – it was only shadow. But the Messiah, the High Priest of our profession, entered the heavenly sanctuary, once, for all, not repeatedly, and not by the blood of animals. The Messiah’s ministry purifies the conscience, giving full forgiveness for sins as the fulfillment of the New Covenant promise.

The writer gives four contrasts to indicate the full significance of Christ’s priestly work.

(1) Christ, as High Priest, has entered not into a sanctuary of this creation, but into heaven itself, into the very presence of God. This means that the approach to God has been perfected, not in shadow but in reality. Christ has opened up full access into God’s presence. The author of Hebrews calls Him the forerunner into the Holiest of all; “… behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:19,20). The word ‘forerunner’ suggests there will be others to follow. The High Priest of the order of Aaron could never be a forerunner. None dared follow him into the Inner Sanctum. But Jesus bids us enter, to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Heb 4:16).

(2) His sacrifice needed no repetition. It was once, for all. The Greek words ἅπαξ (hapax) (translated ‘once’) and ἐφάπαξ (ephapax) (also translated ‘once’) are used 6 times (7.27; 9.12; 9.26; 9.28; 10.2; 10.10) as also μίαν (mian) (translated ‘one’) (10.12) and μιᾷ (miai) (also translated ‘one’) (10.14) to emphasize His single sacrifice. The priests repeated their work because it was ineffective, but Christ does not need to repeat His, because it is effective. The ‘once and for all’ nature of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in the fact that the Aaronic priest stood while serving, while Christ sat down at God’s right hand because His offering was finished. It had been fully accepted and no further offering was required. His atoning work was done, as declared: ‘Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin’. (Heb 10.18) “Done is the work that saves, once and forever done; Finished the righteousness that clothes the unrighteous one.” (Horatius Bonar)

(3) The third contrast focuses on the nature of Christ’s sacrifice. He entered the sanctuary, not by means of the blood of sacrificed animals but by means of His own blood, since He offered Himself on the cross by the will of God. The ceremonies of the Mosaic Covenant established the principle that blood sacrifice was required,

(i) to inaugurate a covenant,

(ii) to purify the tabernacle and its vessels and

(iii) for the forgiveness of sins, for, “almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Heb. 9:22).

Similarly the blood of the Messiah,

(i) inaugurated the New Covenant,

(ii) brought about purification, and

(iii) achieved forgiveness of sins.

(4) The fourth contrast concerned the effect of the Messiah’s High Priestly work. It sanctifies, not in some external, ceremonial way, but in reality. It cleanses the conscience, and provides full and eternal forgiveness. This is described in many ways, such as eternal redemption; or the cleansing of the conscience; or the removal of sin; or the perfecting of the worshipper; or sanctification; or the forgiveness of sins and lawless acts, etc.

More next time

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Day of Atonement

The Tabernacle ceremonies came to a peak in the annual festival of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the tenth of Tishri. It was, (and still is) the most important day in the religious calendar of the Jewish nation. During Tabernacle and Temple times all these pieces of furniture that have been described come into their own, especially the ark with its mercy seat. It has long been considered that the first Yom Kippur took place after Moses had received the second set of stone tablets on which were the Ten Commandments. After the sin of the golden calf, the nation fasted and waited in repentance while Moses ascended the mountain to intercede for them. He returned on the 10th Tishri to announce that God had forgiven the nation, in honor of which the 10th Tishri would remain a day of atonement for all generations.

After the Babylonian captivity, the Day of Atonement took on much greater importance in the culture of Israel. Since the exile was considered a judgment of God because the nation had failed to keep the Mosaic Law, then fulfilling the Law, especially as it applied to this key Temple service in which atonement was made for the sins of the people, became vital. Because the daily sacrifices were unable to cleanse all sins, particularly secret sins, the sacrifice of atonement on the Day of Atonement became the major offering of the religious year. For ten days preceding this solemn festival, the people of Israel were expected to prepare their hearts. These ten days are called ‘The Days of Awe’ and begin at Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, with the background of a nation in an attitude of penance and humility, it was necessary for the priesthood, not only to perform the duties of the Day, but also to perform them in the right order.

The High Priest was cosseted for the week before the day of his duties, and every precaution was taken to ensure he would not be defiled. He prepared himself thoroughly for the elaborate Temple ceremony, memorizing those parts of the T’nach that he had to recite by heart. On the 10th Tishri, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies to atone for the sins of the people. The basic idea was a ‘covering’ for sin, the purpose of which was to accomplish reconciliation between God and man. To prosecute the duties of the day, the High Priest removed his official garments, made for beauty and glory, bathed himself and then dressed in white linen as a symbol of repentance. First, he needed to offer a bull calf as a sin offering for himself, his family and the family of priests. Approaching the bullock the High Priest laid hands on the animal and made confession for himself and his household. “O Lord, I have committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before you, I and my house. O Lord, forgive the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, which I have done by committing iniquity, transgression, and sin before you, I and my house.” As it is written in the Torah of Moses, your servant, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to clean you. From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:30)”

Early in the ceremony, the selection of the goat for ‘azazel’ was performed. Two goats, previously selected, were brought before the High Priest; one was taken for sacrifice and one used as the ‘scapegoat’. The High Priest then proceeded to the bullock to pronounce the second confession. This second confession had the same wording as the first except it was for, “I, my house and the children of Aaron”. The bullock was slaughtered and its blood caught in a basin. This blood was to be taken into the Holy of Holies, but not before the High Priest had armed himself with incense. When the room was filled with the smoke of the incense, he returned to collect the vessel with the blood of the sin offering. Retracing his steps to the ark of the covenant, he sprinkled the blood of the bullock on the mercy seat and on the floor before the ark. In those days when the ark was no longer there, the blood was sprinkled on the stone on which the ark had rested.

His first duty done, the sin offering for himself, his family and the priestly caste, he then needed to make a sin offering for the nation. They brought the goat ‘for the Lord’, that is, the one designated as a sin offering. The High Priest cut its throat and collected its blood in a basin. Returning to the ark in the Inner Sanctum he sprinkled the mercy seat once more. On His return to the Holy Place where he had left the vessel containing the blood of the bullock, he completed a ceremony in which he used the blood of both animals, first separately, and then mixed, to purify the veil and the holy furniture.

The ritual continued with the dispatch of the scapegoat. He took the goat, laid his two hands upon it, and made a third confession. “O Lord, your people, the house of Israel, has committed iniquity, transgressed, and sinned before you. Forgive, O Lord, I pray, the iniquities, transgressions, and sins, which your people, the house of Israel, have committed, transgressed, and sinned before you, as it is written in the Torah of Moses, your servant, For on this day shall atonement be made for you to clean you. From all your sins shall you be clean before the Lord (Lev. 16:30).”

The scapegoat was given over to the one who was to lead it out. It was taken out through the exit gate on the eastern wall. From there it was led to a place some distance from Jerusalem, where it was thrown down a ravine.

After further duties, (readings from the Torah, and the sacrifice of more burnt offerings), the High Priest concluded the ceremony by donning his robes made for beauty and glory to pronounce a benediction on the people.

Next time: The Messiah and the Day of Atonement

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Death of the Messiah (Continued)

Sacrifices and Offerings (Continued)

The Sanctuary (Where the priesthood operated)

It is in the book of Exodus that we are introduced to the concept of a Sanctuary for Israel—a specific, purpose built house, designed to act as a meeting-place with God. Previously, where it was an individual seeking an audience with God, an altar was sufficient. But when Israel, newly delivered from Egypt and daily recipients of fresh revelations at Sinai, numbered more than two million souls there was a clear need for a tent of meeting. They required a place where they could bring their offerings, and know the presence among them of the God that had taken them as His “special treasure” (Exod.19:5). However, it was not Moses, nor the elders of the nation that proposed the Tabernacle to meet this requirement. It was the LORD Himself. He is the one that said, “let them make Me a sanctuary” (Exod.25:8). And this was no blind edict that had to be obeyed without knowing why - the reason for it was provided - “that I may dwell among them”. Oh the grace of God, that He had a desire to dwell among them. In some aspect of His existence He became a tent dweller to dwell amongst tent dwellers: He became a pilgrim to dwell among pilgrims.

Since the Tabernacle was to be ‘a shadow of good things to come’, then it had to be constructed exactly according to God’s instructions. However, the instructions first set out details of the materials, dimensions and descriptions of its furniture, beginning with the most important piece, “And they shall make an ark of acacia wood; two and a half cubits shall be its length, a cubit and a half its width, and a cubit and a half its height. And you shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and shall make on it a molding of gold all around” (Ex 25:10,11). Without the ark, the Tabernacle could not fulfill its purpose, because the lid of the ark, the ‘mercy seat’ was to be, for Israel, the place of the localized presence of God. He promised, “there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Israel” (Ex 25:22).

The ark was to be the only piece of furniture in the second chamber of the Tabernacle, the Inner Sanctum. The ark was made of wood overlaid with gold. The lid of the ark, the mercy seat was wholly made of gold, the cherubim also; gold typifying the glory of God. It was, in fact, a box, and under divine guidance was to be the home of (i) the Ten Commandments; (ii) Aaron’s rod; and (iii) a pot of manna.

The ‘mercy seat’, sometimes referred to as the ‘throne of God’ by the Hebrew people, was the focal point of the Day of Atonement service. Twice it received the blood of sacrifice during the ceremony.

In the first room of the tent dwelling, the Holy Place, there was a further three pieces of golden furniture. There was a table which was always to be furnished with twelve loaves of bread set, as it were, ‘before the Lord’. Then there was the gold lamp-stand (Exod.25:31ff). While the table and the ark were to be made of wood overlaid with gold, the lamp-stand was to be made of pure gold. It had a central shaft with three branches coming out of each side. The gold was to be worked in such a way as it would depict the fruit bearing cycle of the almond tree. The lamps were to be constantly supplied with oil.

Then there was an altar, again made of wood and overlaid with gold; this was the altar of incense, which was located closest to the veil which separated the two rooms. It was at this altar that the priest would pray; thus the Psalmist could say, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense” (Ps. 141:2). While it was the High Priest alone who entered the Holiest of all, and that only on one day a year, his brother priests were required to enter the Holy place daily to replace the showbread, maintain the illumination from the seven branch Menorah, and burn incense while interceding for the people of Israel.

There were two pieces of furniture in the outer court, the laver and the altar. The altar was made of wood overlaid with metal. The metal (described as bronze) was to take the fire. Jesus endured the fire of God when sin was judged at Calvary. The altar was about seven and a half foot wide by seven and a half foot broad, by four and a half foot high. Being four-square it was accessible from all sides, suggesting that all blessings can be traced back to Calvary. It had four horns at the corners—horns in Scripture speak of power and authority. The horns were stained with blood. Jesus said, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father” (John 10:17,18). This is real power.

The grate was twenty seven inches from the ground, significantly the same height as the mercy seat. It was necessary for the sacrifice to be lifted up from the ground, reminding us of the saying of the Saviour, “If I be lifted up …” (John 12.32).

Its situation (it was the altar at the door) meant it had the premier position in the outer court. There could be no access to God without sacrifice—for there was no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, “for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). Praise God, we “were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18,19).

The second piece of furniture in the outer court was the laver, an all metal container for water. It held the water for the ablutions of the priests—they were required to wash both hands and feet before handling the sacrifices. Those that failed to observe this requirement and fully respect the offerings of the Lord not only lost the opportunity to fulfill their duties as priest but could possibly lose their lives. Under the Law it was a capital crime. This surely is significant when we consider that the Messiah added foot washing to hand washing at the last Passover before He said, “This is my body which is given for you” (Luke 22.19). It also intimates that Judas was excluded from the foot washing, because Jesus said, referring to the betrayer, “you are not all clean” (John 13.11).

Since there are two altars in the Tabernacle, the bronze ‘altar at the door’ and the golden altar in the Holy Place, it seems appropriate to compare their functions and meaning. The blood shed outside at the brazen altar represents what Christ did; while incense offered inside at the golden altar represents what Christ is. The brazen altar sacrifice reminds us that Christ offered Himself for sin, and that only once; while the golden altar points us to the fact that “He always lives to make intercession” (Heb.7:25).

More next time