We have an altar from which those who serve at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
I. THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR. "We have an altar." One of the positions which the writer of this Epistle endeavors to establish is this, that by the renunciation of Judaism these Hebrew Christians had not lost anything of real value, or that the good in Judaism was perfected in Christianity. He shows that in Jesus Christ, the Head of the Christian dispensation, they had One far greater than Moses, by whom the elder economy was given. For giving up the Levitical priesthood there was far more than compensation in the possession of an interest in the great High Priest. Moreover, the tabernacle in which our great High Priest appears for us is "greater and more perfect" than either the tabernacle in the wilderness or the temple at Jerusalem. And in our text he points out that Christians have also an altar with its provisions and blessings. By this altar we understand the cross upon which our Lord offered himself a Sacrifice for human sin.
1. On this altar the perfect Sacrifice was offered. (We have already dealt with the perfection of Christ's sacrifice in our homilies on Hebrews 10:5-10, and 12, 13.)
2. This altar has superseded all other altars. The perfection of this sacrifice rendered its repetition unnecessary, and abolished forever the imperfect and typical sacrifices of the earlier dispensation (cf. Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:10-18).
II. THE PROVISION WHICH THIS ALTAR FURNISHES. The writer speaks of eating of this altar. The reference is to the fact that certain portions of some of the sacrifices under the Mosaic economy were eaten by the priests, and certain by the Levites also (cf. Leviticus 6:14-18, 24-30; Leviticus 7.; Numbers 18:8-11; 1 Corinthians 9:13). The provision from the Christian altar is Jesus Christ himself, the great Sacrifice. By faith" we become partakers of Christ;" we appropriate him as the Life and the Sustenance of the soul. Our Lord said, "I am the living Bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever," etc. (John 6:51-58).
1. This provision is spiritual. Not of the literal or material flesh and blood of Jesus do we eat and drink, but by faith we become partakers of his mind, his feelings, his principles, his spirit, his life, himself. Hence St. Paul writes, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," etc. (Galatians 2:20). Again, "Christ our Life" (Colossians 3:3, 4).
2. This provision is delightful. To those who are healthy the eating of suitable provision; Is not only necessary and satisfying, but pleasurable. It gratifies the palate. The spiritual appropriation of Christ is joy-inspiring. In Christianity we have "a feast of fat things."
3. This provision is free, and free to all. Some of the Levitical sacrifices belonged to the sacrificing priest only, others only to the priest and Levites. But all may come to Christ by faith, and partake of the inestimable benefits of his great sacrifice. "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters," etc. (Isaiah 4:1, 2; Revelation 22:17).
III. THE EXCLUSION OF SOME FROM' PARTICIPATION IN THIS PROVISION. "Whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." The reference is to the Jewish priests and Levites. They who clung to Judaism rejected Christianity, and were necessarily excluded from its benefits. They were self-excluded. They would not come unto Christ that they might have life. All who reject the Lord Jesus are in a similar condition: e.g. the self-righteous moralist, the modern representative of the ancient Pharisee; the captious and the scoffing skeptic; the worlding who elects to have his portion in this life; and others. The provision is free, free for all; but these exclude themselves from participation therein. How is it possible for any one to enjoy the blessings of Christianity who rejects the Christ? - W.J.
We have an altar.I. OUR CHRISTIAN ALTAR. The very living heart of the gospel is an altar and a sacrifice. That idea saturates the whole New Testament, from the page where John the Forerunner's proclamation is, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," to the last triumphant visions in which the Apocalyptic seer "beheld a Lamb as it had been slain," the eternal Co-Regnant of the universe, and the Mediator through whom the whole surrounding Church for ever worships the Father. Jesus Christ is all which temple, priest, altar, sacrifice proclaimed should one day be. And just as the relation between Christ's work and the Judaic system of external ritual sacri-rices is that of shadow and substance, prophecy and fulfilment, so, in analogous manner, the relation between the altar and sacrifice of the New Testament and all the systems of heathenism, with their smoking altars, is that these declare a want, and this affords its supply; that these are the confession of humanity that it is conscious of sin, separation, alienation, and the need of a sacrifice, and that Christ is what heathenism in all lands has wailed that it needs, and has desperately hoped that it might find. Christ in His representative relation, in His true affinity to every man upon earth, has in His life and death taken upon Himself the consequences of human transgression, not merely by sympathy, nor only by reason of the uniqueness of His representative relation, but by willing submission to that awful separation from the Father, of which the cry out of the thick darkness of the Cross, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" is the unfathomable witness. Thus, bearing our sin, He bears it away, and " we have an altar."
II. OUR FEAST ON THE SACRIFICE. The Christ who died for my sins is not only my means of reconciliation with God, but His sacrifice and death are the sustenance of my spiritual life. The life of the Christian is the indwelling Christ. But how is that feeding on the sacrifice accomplished? "He that eateth Me, even he shall live by Me." He that believeth, eateth. He that with humble faith makes Christ his very own, and appropriates as the nourishment and basis of his own better life the facts of that life and death of sacrifice, he truly lives thereby. To eat is to believe; to believe is to live. I need not remind you how, though there be no reference in the words of my text, as I have tried to show, to the external rite of the communion of the Lord's body and blood, and though " altar:' here has no reference whatever to that table, yet there is a connection between the two representations, inasmuch as the one declares in words what the other sets forth in symbol, and the meaning of the feast on the sacrifice is expressed by this great word. "This is My body, broken for you." "This is the new covenant in My blood." "Drink ye all of it."
III. OUR CHRISTIAN OFFERINGS ON THE ALTAR. What are these offerings? Christ's death stands alone, incapable of repetition, needing no repetition, the eternal, sole, "sufficient obligation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world." But there be other kinds of sacrifice. There are sacrifices of thanksgiving as well as for propitiation. And we, on the footing of that great sacrifice to which we can add nothing, and on which alone we must rest, may bring the offerings of our thankful hearts. These offerings are of a twofold sort, says the writer. There are words of praise, there are works of beneficence. The service of man is sacrifice to God.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)I. ATTEND TO A FEW PARTICULARS RESPECTING THE JEWISH ALTAR.
1. It had its origin in Divine appointment.
2. The altar being built, it was afterwards dedicated, and in a solemn manner set apart for God.
3. When the altar was consecrated, it was ever afterwards reputed holy.
II. TRACE THE RESEMBLANCE, IN SOME INSTANCES, BETWEEN THE JEWISH AND THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR.
1. The altar was principally designed for sacrifice, and was, therefore, called the altar of burnt-offering (Exodus 40:10). Now Christ is both the Sacrifice, the Altar, and the Priest.
2. The altar was designed for worship, and its most solemn acts were there performed. "I will wash my hands in innocency," &c. "I will go unto the altar of God, unto God my exceeding joy" (Psalm 26:6; Psalm 43:4). And what the altar was to the Jews, that is Jesus to us; all our services are to be performed in His name, all our prayers and praises offered up .through His mediation.
3. The altar was a place of refuge. Christ is in the truest sense the refuge of all who flee from the wrath to come, and who lay hold on the hope that is set before them in the gospel.
(B. Beddome M.A.)I. THE LORD CHRIST, IN THE ONE SACRIFICE OF HIMSELF, IS THE ONLY ALTAR OF THE CHURCH OF THE NEW TESTAMENT.
II. THIS ALTAR IS EVERY WAY SUFFICIENT IN ITSELF FOR THE ENDS OF AN ALTAR; NAMELY, THE SANCTIFICATION OF THE PEOPLE, as verse 12.
III. THE ERECTION OF ANY OTHER ALTAR IN THE CHURCH, OR THE INTRODUCTION OF ANY OTHER SACRIFICE REQUIRING A MATERIAL ALTAR, IS DEROGATORY TO THE SACRIFICE OF CHRIST, AND EXCLUSIVE OF HIM FROM BEING OUR ALTAR.
IV. Whereas the design of the apostle in the whole of his discourse is to declare the glory of the gospel and its worship above that of the law, of our priest above theirs, of our sacrifice above theirs, of our altar above theirs, IT IS FOND TO THINK THAT BY "OUR ALTAR," HE INTENDS SUCH A MATERIAL FABRIC AS IS EVERY WAY INFERIOR UNTO THAT OF OLD.
V. When God appointed a material altar for His service, HE HIMSELF ENJOINED THE MAKING OF IT, PRESCRIBED ITS FORM AND USE, WITH ALL ITS UTENSILS, SERVICES, AND CEREMONIES, ALLOWING OF NOTHING IN IT OR ABOUT IT BUT WHAT WAS BY HIMSELF APPOINTED. It is not, therefore, probable that under the New Testament there should be a material altar of equal necessity with that under the Old, accompanied in its administrations with various utensils, ceremonies, and services; while neither this altar itself, nor any of its services, were of Divine appointment.
VI. SINNERS, UNDER A SENSE OF GUILT, HAVE IN THE GOSPEL AN ALTAR OF ATONEMENT, WHEREUNTO THEY MAY HAVE CONTINUAL ACCESS FOR THE EXPIATION OF THEIR SINS. He is the propitiation.
VII. ALL PRIVILEGES, OF WHAT NATURE SOEVER, WITHOUT A PARTICIPATION OF CHRIST AS THE ALTAR AND SACRIFICE OF THE CHURCH, ARE OF NO ADVANTAGE UNTO THEM THAT ENJOY THEM.
(John Owen, D. D.)1. The very name, institution, and existence of an altar implies that man is a sinner-that there is a quarrel between us and God. If no sin, there is needed no sacrifice; if an altar, there must be sin to necessitate the institution of that altar.
2. It teaches also another grand lesson, namely, that the wages of sin is death.
3. An altar suggests to us a disruption between God and man. It is one of the instinctive suggestions of the heart of man that there is a quarrel between him and God; and until he can see it in the light of revelation, he knows not the origin of that quarrel, he knows not how that quarrel may be made up. The existence of an altar in the Christian economy teaches that there is forgiveness with God, that He may be feared.
4. An altar suggests to us the important, that there being one altar, it is the only way of acceptance. If this be infinite in its sufficiency why seek anything else?
5. Another idea suggested by the name "altar " is protection. We read occasionally in the Bible of "fleeing to the horns of the altar," "laying hold upon the horns of the altar"; thus, too, the Christian has in his altar perfect protection. Protection from what? Not from illness, from poverty, from losses, from crosses? These are sanctifying and may not therefore be prevented. But you will have protection from all that is penal; for the inscription most luminous upon the very face of that altar is " There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus."
6. This altar suggests to us the very important truth that through it and by it we always have acceptance with God; that not only is it the only way of acceptance, but it is the standing evidence of access to God.
7. This altar and the idea of an altar teaches us this great lesson, that "without shedding of blood there is no remission of sins." A great crime cleaves to humanity; a stain deep as hell has fallen upon the human heart. All the tears of penitence cannot wipe it out, all the blood of martyrs cannot cancel it, no length of time will waste it, no ingenuity of man can mitigate it. There is only one element that can wash it away. "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin."
8. We learn another lesson from the name "altar": it is the altar that sanctifies the gift. The way to have all the sorrows of your life sanctified, to have your great things made greater, and your little things made precious, and the way to receive them again a thousandfold, is to bring and offer them all upon Christ, the glorious altar that sanctifies the gift. What a magnificent idea does this give us of a Christian l The least act that a Christian does is thus a sacerdotal act. All Christians are priests.
9. This use of the word "altar " implies that there is a priest who offers the sacrifice; who is this priest? We have but one altar, we have therefore but one priest, and we do not need any other. Wherever the winds blow, wherever the waves of the ocean roll, wherever man's heart beats, and man's lungs breathe, and man's soul longs for a sense of the presence of God, the great High Priest is accessible, able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him.
10. But this name, "altar," having suggested to us so many truths, where, you ask, is the altar situated on which the great propitiation has been made, by which that everlasting High Priest continually stands and ministers for ever? Our altar is in the heaven, on the earth: wheresoever two or three meet in the name of Christ, there the altar stands, and there the altar is approached; for " I am present in the midst of them."
(J. Cumming, D. D.)I. First, we have an altar — THAT IS TO SAY, CHRISTIANITY RESTS FOR ITS BASIS ON THE INSTITUTION OF SACRIFICE. Though men have been divided from each other by oceans and continents, united neither by commerce nor by any mode of communication, though they have differed in their views of polity and government and religion, they seem to have been as one in this matter of sacrifice. They have all equally thought that the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth must die to propitiate God. And we would have you farther observe, as a proof of the Divine origin of this custom, that it was not an idea which would naturally originate with man. If it had been at all likely, according to the teaching of unassisted reason, that God would have been pleased with this mode of worship, then we might imagine that man had himself devised this mode of approaching his Creator. But let Reason sit in judgment on this custom of animal sacrifices, and what will be her verdict? To kill the unoffending — can that be pleasing to God? When I am conscious of guilt, and anxious for pardon, am I likely to appease God's wrath by putting to death an innocent victim? We must surely admit that the practice of sacrificing animals, unless Divinely commanded, was an act of wanton cruelty, which, so far from disposing God to mercy, must have stirred Him to greater indignation; and that a custom so manifestly not suggested by reason, should yet have spread itself over the whole earth, seems to us the strongest possible proof of the divinity of its origin. Throughout the whole of the Jewish system there was a continual offering of the blood of animals upon the altars where God was worshipped; and however blind the Jews were, however hard their hearts were, however many truths they missed which the Almighty had meant them to learn, they did lay hold of tiffs truth — that there is no acceptable worship without sacrifice. And when the new religion appeared we can well imagine that this was one of the difficulties to a Jewish mind — that the votaries of the new system abandoned the altars of their fathers, and set up new altars of their own. We can conceive a Jewish objector approaching the apostles, and saying, "How is this? From the time when men first began to call upon the name of the Lord, they have always worshipped at altars. Those altars have always reeked with blood. It is thus that our fathers have worshipped ever since the giving of the law, and even before the days of Moses. It is thus that Abraham worshipped on Mount Moriah. It was thus that Noah worshipped under the arch of the covenant bow. It was thus that Abel worshipped when men sought earliest to win back their way to Paradise. If you are worshippers of the true God, the God of our fathers, where are your altars? what are your sacrifices?" Now, the words of our text seem to reply to such an objector, "We have an altar"; as though the writer said, "We recognise the great principle which has been revealed to men all through the days of the law, which has been known even by heathen men among their grossest superstitions — the truth that without the shedding of blood there is no remission, and we, too, have an altar." We need not tell you that the altar here referred to is the Cross, and that the sacrifice offered upon it was the only begotten Son of God. Thus the text affirms that Christianity rests upon basis of sacrifice.
II. The text further affirms THAT THE CHRISTIAN SACRIFICE IS AN OFFERING, FOR SIN. Through the whole of the Jewish system men were taught that as it is the life which man forfeited by sin, so it is the life which must atone for sin. There is a passage in Leviticus which distinctly affirms it: "The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul." The passage occurs in connection with the command not to eat flesh in which there blood remained. The teaching seems to be this: "You must not eat of blood because that is appointed as the symbol of atonement, and the blood is the symbol of atonement because it represents the life of the animal from which it is taken." It is not the matter of the blood that atones, but the life it bears and represents. "The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it you upon the altar to atone for your lives, for the blood atones through the life." Hence you will find in the Jewish system that before the victim died the offerer was commanded to lay his hands upon its head. Now, in Scripture the laying on of hands was a symbolical action. It represented the transfer of something from the person imposing his hands to the person or thing upon which hands were laid. What had the offerer to transfer to the victim? Evidently his sin. He came to God as a sinner. His anxious desire was to obtain the forgiveness of his sin. His prayer was that the guilt of his sin might pass from him to the victim that he offered. And the Jews believed that where there was a frank confession and true renouncement of sin there was an actual transfer of sin from the man to the animal. Now, in this text before us the writer identifies the death of Jesus with those particular sacrifices. "We have an altar," he says, "of which they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle." They might eat the free-will offerings and the thank-offerings, but they must not eat that particular sin-offering; for he goes on to say: "The bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary for sin are burned without the camp." They had been so burned in the days of Moses when the camp was pitched in the wilderness. They were so burned still in the days of the apostles, outside the walls of Jerusalem. "Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate." You see that this text clearly connects the death of Jesus with the Jewish sin-offering, not with thank-offerings or with free-will-offerings, but with the sin-offering, and with the most sacred and impressive of all the sin-offerings — the offering whose blood was taken to the holiest place by the high priest for sin. We need not enlarge on the correspondence between the death of Jesus and the transactions on that day of atonement. We are taught that by the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, graciously offered as a sacrifice for us, a way has been opened to the holiest as through a veil, that veil no longer excluding and concealing from the presence of God, but rent on purpose to receive every penitent transgressor. We are taught that by the blood of Jesus shed for our sins we are permitted to come, not only with safety, but with boldness into the region of God's manifested presence. We are taught that the offering, being infinitely precious, is attended by none of the imperfections which mark the Jewish sacrifices, but is adequate to meet all the requirements of a guilty conscience, and to present a sinner, soul and body, with perfect acceptance before the holy God.
III. But this text teaches us, further, THAT THE CHRISTIAN ALTAR WILL HAVE NO RIVAL, NO COMPETITOR YOU observe that the apostle has been telling us in this text that the Christian sacrifice corresponds with the Jewish sin-offering. A little further study will show that he tells us that the Christian sacrifice avails for none who put their trust in the old temple sacrifices. He describes the Jewish system as a camp pitched in the wilderness. It was not a continuing city. He tells us that Jesus went out of the camp, and he exhorts us to follow Him. For himself, he had long since resolved to know nothing among men save Jesus Christ and Him crucified; to worship at no altar but the altar of the Cross; and he here exhorts all his fellow Christians to copy his example, and, at whatever cost and suffering and reproach, to go forth to Him who, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate. There is no need for us to emphasize this exhortation not to trust in Jewish sacrifices. Within seven or eight years after this letter was written Jerusalem was destroyed — the temple was abolished. From that day to this no Jewish sacrifices have been offered, so far was that from being a continuing city. But is there nothing that we may learn from this solemn admonition not to trust in the Jewish sacrifices? The underlying principle is this — that Christ will be the Saviour of none who mingle any other confidence with their simple rest upon His merit. You have to come to Jesus and to Jesus only; and if some of you have been looking for salvation long, do you not see here the reason that has kept you back from it? There has not been the renouncement of all other confidences which there must be. We have an altar all-sufficient to save us to the uttermost; but they have no right to eat of it, they have no saving share in the merit of it, who trust in the sacrifices of the temple. But that is not all that this text teaches us. Not only are we here taught that it is utterly destructive of Christian faith to follow the Jewish ceremonies as a ground of merit; we are further taught that it was dangerous to the simplicity of faith to follow them at all. Now, why were the apostles so anxious to have the Jewish ceremonies abolished? With a ritual that was the most gorgeous the world has ever known, if mankind could learn the truth from ceremonies and symbols, no ceremonies could be imagined more impressive than those which God Himself appointed in the temple at Jerusalem. Why not continue the types to help Christians to understand the Antitype? Why not have an order of priests on earth to remind us of the one Priest in heaven? Why not have sacrifices offered on Christian altars to remind us of the one Sacrifice by which our sins are taken away? Alas, the apostles knew too well how prone men are to rest in shadows and forget the substance, In all ages elaborate ceremonial has been destructive of the simplicity of faith. What, then, does this teach us as to our practical duty? It shows that there is a city out of which we have all to come. We all love it; we all cling to it — the city sometimes of gorgeous ritualistic pomp, the city sometimes of orderly Nonconformist worship; the city of mere outward morality and formal attendance upon the means of grace; the city of personal self-righteousness. Out of it we have to come if we mean to be saved by Christ — away from all that as a ground of trust. Out of it? Whither? To the ignominious place where criminals suffered. To the scene where the bodies of the beasts whose blood had been taken into the sanctuary for atonement were burnt with fire. To Golgotha, the place of a skull. There is our altar.
IV. But, lastly, THE ALTAR DEMANDS SACRIFICE. We are not to escape and think that it is all accomplished because the sacrifice has once been offered. Read on to the fifteenth verse. By Him let us offer the sacrifice of praise, the Jewish free-will offering, the thank-offering. Let us do this continually; not simply, as the Jews did, on great festivals and stated occasions, but always. And let this sacrifice of praise be the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name. Mark it, the fruit of our lips — not simply the words of our lips. A great many words pass our lips that are not the fruit. Fruit has a root. The fruit of the lip grows out of the heart; and only when what the lip says is what the heart feels is that the fruit of our lips. There must be the fruit of our lips — the thanks to God that spring out of a truly renewed and grateful nature: "the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." The margin says, "confessing His name," and that is the best thanks we can give to God — not to talk about ourselves, but about Him, to confess what He is and what He has done for us. "The fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name." But that is not all. Forget not that there is something beyond even that. The sixteenth verse tells you: "To do good and to communicate forget not, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased." Though the Jewish ritual has been abolished, though the nursing mother no longer brings her pair of turtle doves and her two young pigeons for an offering, though the man recovered from sickness no longer drives his bullock or his flock of sheep to the temple door, the heart of a Christian will be as grateful as the heart of a Jew. If we do not bring the victims we may bring the worth of them.
(F. Greeves, D. D.)
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