Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"The True Tent of Worship"

Selections from Hebrews 9 

Jeremiah 31: 31-34

      This morning, we open God’s Word to what many believe is Paul’s letter to the Hebrews.  The authorship is a matter of debate among scholars, who claim the vocabulary, grammar and syntax in Hebrews is very different from the other of Paul’s letters.  Who actually wrote it is not as important as who inspired it.  For the people of God, it is the word of God.

      Earthly authorship notwithstanding, the purpose of Hebrews was to present to those who lived under what was called “the old covenant”  -- the old agreement -- a new covenant; a new way of viewing and understanding God’s promises of forgiveness, restoration and wholeness.  And this new covenant is viewed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the sacrificial lamb of God.  We’ve talked in the past about how Jesus serves as our great High Priest, who makes sacrifice of Himself on behalf of all God’s people.  In this 9th chapter, the author takes that idea a bit further.  For ease of translation from the original Greek, I’ve chosen to read from the Contemporary English Version.  Hear now the word of the Lord.

      Don’t you know that this sanctuary in which we worship each Sunday is basically – in the Hebraic sense – a “tent for worship here on earth?”  Chapter 9 begins with a description of such a place of worship, which in the days of the ancient Hebrews was literally a big tent; dirt floor; animal hide walls; no pews; no stained glass windows or dome; no ceiling for that matter.  Some of its contents, though, are common to this modern-day tent we’re gathered in.  We have lamp stands in the form of brass candelabra; we have a table.  Upon it most weeks, we place a loaf of bread and a cup. 

      Then there are items which we don’t have in this tent of worship.  Although I understand we once had a curtain hanging in this area behind the pulpit, it has long since been removed in favor of a cross.  We don’t have a gold altar for the burning of incense.  We don’t have a sacred chest (better known as the Ark of the Covenant) containing manna, Aaron’s walking stick, and the tablets of the Law.  Also absent from our tent of worship is a special inner sanctum called “the holy place” or the “Holy of holies.”  This was a chamber in the very center of the tent which was to be entered only once a year; and then, only by the High Priest.  Hebrews tells us that “Each time he carried (animal) blood to offer for his sins and for any sins that the people had committed without meaning to.”

      Well, we can do without that curtain.  The cross should be our central focus.  We don’t need a gold altar for burning incense.  Although I personally like the aroma of some incense, those with nasal allergies probably appreciate the fact that we leave the incense to the Catholics.  We don’t need a sacred chest filled with ancient artifacts.  We have the written word of God, which is filled with all we need to remind us of our history and heritage.  We have no inner chamber, or “Holy of holies,” where the presence of God abides.  God is all around us, and any walls which would separate us from God’s presence were torn down when Christ offered up His life.The way the writer of Hebrews puts it:  “…Christ went once for all into the most holy places and freed us from sin forever.” 

      This is the sum and substance of what we remember when we celebrate the Lords’ Supper. We remember first that Christ, being the very human manifestation of God, could enter the heart of God – “the most holy place” -- as no one else could or can.  We next remember that in willingly laying down His life for us, Christ carried our sins away, and brought in their place the assurance that when we confess Him as our Savior, we are freed from the eternal consequences of sin. Then we remember that this demonstration of God’s new covenant is “once for all.”  Sometimes I hear folks call this table an “altar.”  This suggests that the table is a place of ongoing sacrifice. But the sacrifice has already been accomplished, one time, for all people, for all time.  Each time we come together to observe the Lord’s Supper, we don’t again re-sacrifice Christ.  We rememberSo rather than an altar, this table would be more accurately called “a table of remembrance.  Now, we manage without the curtain; the incense; the sacred chest; the inner chamber.  What we cannot do without is that bread; the bread of presence under the old covenant; Jesus, the true and very bread of life, under the new covenant. 

      As we come to the table of remembrance this morning, let’s keep a few things in mind. First, that this table, and the elements upon it, symbolize the new covenant initiated under the Law given to Moses.  But no more blood need be shed.  The best has “once for all” been poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.  Second, that this tent in which we worship – beautiful and inspiring as it is – is just a representation of “a much better tent that wasn’t made by humans and that doesn’t belong to this world.”  The better tent is heaven itself; the very fullness of the Kingdom of God.  Third, there is no longer a “Holy of holies,” because the Holiest of holies has already dwelt among us in the person of Jesus.  Because of Him, all the dividing walls of fear, hostility, and misunderstanding between God and humankind have been broken down, even as the curtain of the temple which separated the inner “holy place” from the people was torn from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ mortal death.

      Let us then come to the table with confidence that, as stated in Hebrews 14: “….Christ was sinless, and he offered himself as an eternal and spiritual sacrifice to God.  That’s why his blood is much more powerful, and makes our consciences clear.  Now we can serve the living God and no longer do things that lead to death.”  We enter now the true tent of worship.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102