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When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper as he celebrated the Passover with his disciples, he told them that this was a new covenant in his blood. As the writer to the Hebrews explains, by calling it “new” he was indicating that the “old” was being replaced. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the old covenant. It was holy, given by God himself. But it had served its purpose. It had reached its fulfillment.
The Apostle Paul helps us understand by using the illustration of a shadow. The Old Covenant was a shadow. Shadows tell you that there is something standing in the way of a light source. You can’t see what that something is, but the shadow lets you know it’s there. In fact, by looking at the shadow you might be able to learn things about the something that is casting the shadow. That was certainly true of the Old Covenant.
In the Old Covenant there was a tabernacle and then a temple. Both had two rooms, a holy place, and a most holy place. Only priests could enter the holy place to care for the lamps, the altar of incense and the twelve loaves of bread – all things that indicated the fact that God was always with his people to watch over them, guide them by his spirit, and answer their prayers. Only the High Priest could go behind the curtain that separated the holy place and the most holy place. The most holy place represented the throne room of God. The High Priest could only enter the most holy place once a year, and only after he went through a ceremonial washing, offered sacrifices, filled the room with smoke, and brought the blood of the sacrifices with him to sprinkle on the atonement cover of the ark of the covenant.
What did this all mean? It meant that sinful humans cannot enter into the presence of the holy God. It meant that a sacrifice had to be made and blood had to be shed to cover sin before anyone could come into the presence of God. The fact that sacrifices were made every single day, over and over again, made it clear that the blood of lambs and other sacrificial animals didn’t actually pay for sins. They simply pointed ahead, foreshadowed, a sacrifice that would.
The writer makes it clear what that sacrifice was. He says that the reason Jesus took on a body is so that he could be that sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God. Paul says that the sacrifices and rules of the old covenant were a shadow of the things to come, but the BODY, the something that was casting the shadow, is Christ. Our sins and lawless acts continue, but where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Jesus paid for all sin, once and for all time, by sacrificing himself on the cross.
Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that in the new covenant, together with bread and wine, he gives us his body and blood. He assures us that no more sacrifices are needed. We aren’t required to offer anything, nor does he have to be offered again and again in an unbloody way. It is finished. His sacrifice on the cross paid for every sin once and for all. Because of what he did God chooses to remember our sins and lawless acts no more. Jesus says to us as we receive this new covenant in his blood – This is for you for the forgiveness of sins.
What does this mean? It means that Jesus has made you a priest, in fact you have something even better than the High Priest of the Old Covenant. He could only enter the most holy place once a year, and only after going through ceremonial washings, making sacrifices, and sprinkling blood everywhere. Even then he must have been very timid as he entered behind the curtain into the most Holy place, remembering the sons of Aaron who were struck down by God because they had not followed all of God’s instructions. Tradition says that the High Priest would tie a rope around his ankle in case he would faint, or God would strike him down, his body could be retrieved.
What we have is much better. When Jesus died the curtain in the temple was ripped in two. The writer says that the fact that he sacrificed his body for our sins, is the new and living way through the curtain. Sprinkled by his blood and washed by him in baptism we are thoroughly cleansed inside and out, considered priests of God who can enter into the most holy place, into the presence of God not just once a year, but anytime we want. When we come we don’t have to be fearful or timid. We can come before God with boldness and confidence.
In Jesus, our great High Priest, we have the confidence to come before God in prayer, any time of day, anywhere we may be, and talk to him about anything that is on our mind. The blood of Jesus has cleansed us from all sin. In baptism we have been clothed with Christ and his righteousness. We never have to be timid or afraid when we come to God in prayer.
Even more wonderful is the fact that the most holy place was only a picture of heaven. In Jesus we have the confidence that when we die, or the last day comes, we can stand before God in heaven itself, not in an earthly temple, and be declared not guilty because of Jesus.
Do you have a bad, a guilty conscience? Cry out with the tax collector God be merciful to me, a sinner. Confess with the prodigal son to those you have sinned against, I have sinned against heaven and you, I am not worthy to be called your son, your spouse, your friend, your parent, your neighbor. Confess that you have nothing good to offer God. Then come, not to give, but to receive. Come to the feast. Come in the full confidence of faith that in this supper, this new covenant, Jesus gives you his body, the body he sacrificed to open the curtain that separated you from God, and that he gives you his blood, shed to pay for your sins, and to assure you that sacrificing is over. Your every sin has been paid for in full.
What a blessing Jesus has given us in this new covenant! He engages our eyes, our ears, our taste, our touch, and our smell, and then he challenges our faith with things unseen, all to make sure that we are paying attention when he says this is for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Having received these blessings, the writer encourages us, Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering. Let what Jesus has done for you and what he has given you in the new covenant in his blood move you to confess him. Let it move you to proclaim his death until he comes, to share with the world that Jesus lived and died for you, and for them too. Be strengthened by this new covenant in his blood so that you don’t bend to popular opinion, or conform to the pattern of the world, or be blown back and forth by every wind of teaching like a rudderless ship. Don’t itch people’s ears by telling them what they want to hear. Speak the truth in love no matter the consequences. And when there are consequences, when trouble comes because you have confessed the hope you have in Jesus, come again to receive the blood of the new covenant, be strengthened and refreshed to continue to confess your hope without wavering, the certainty that you have eternal life because of Jesus.
As we see so many shadows from the old covenant fulfilled over the next few days, the unleavened bread, the unblemished lamb, the shedding of blood, the casting of lots, the piercing of hands and feet, the burial with the rich, the sign of Jonah, and many more, we see clearly that what the writer says is true. God is faithful. No promise he has made us will ever fail. Therefore, live your life confidently confessing your faith. Be filled with the comfort that comes from the words given and poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins, because you know that the one who has promised is faithful.