… only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings – external regulations applying until the time of the new order. (verses 7-10)
Entry into the very presence of God is impossible. At least if we’re trying to do it in our own right. Indeed, it is foolhardy and entirely dangerous.
That’s what the picture of the Old Testament tabernacle – the very dwelling of God – shows us. In the heart of the tabernacle was the Holy Place into which only the priests could enter. It was the space in which they carried out the activities of worship on behalf of all God’s people. The ordinary people (like you and me) were never allowed in.
But that space itself was not a place of encountering the very presence of God – that was reserved for the space behind a further curtain, the Most Holy Place, which no one was ever to enter, except the High Priest himself, and that only once per year. What this communicated was the complete inability – ineligibility and prohibition – of men and women entering the presence of the Lord God Almighty on their own.
And even the High Priest realized his own opportunity of entrance was not based on position or rank or personal holiness, but rather on the sacrifice of blood from a bull on the Day of Atonement, a sacrifice which covered his own sin – only then was he able to enter. Indeed, the High Priest understood the danger of making entrance apart from these proscribed sacrifices – the rabbis described how he would seek to cover his tracks by making special prayers when he exited from the Most Holy Place, and then making a feast for all his friends to celebrate the fact he had come through this hazardous ritual safely.
The way into the Most Holy Place was closed, but for this one opportunity per year for one person, who entered fearful of the hazard.
All the religious acts of ancient Israel – as intricate and involved and important as they were – “were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” They were not able to provide safe passage into God’s presence for the people of God.
It built up an intense yearning for “the time of the new order,” the time promised by God when the New Covenant would be instituted, when he would write his law on the very hearts of his people, removing their hearts of stone, and filling them with his own Spirit – the time when Jesus would open up the way into the very presence of Almighty God himself.
So, don’t forget the former reality. Don’t forget the impossibility of entry into God’s presence on your own merits. It’s entirely presumptuous, and fraught with deathly hazard and danger.
Don’t forget … so that you never lose the riveting wonder that Jesus has now actually welcomed us in. Into the Most Holy Place. He has welcomed us home. The Father calls us. The Spirit fills us. It’s a stunning new reality. Not in our own right, but only in the person of Jesus.
Praise his name.
Lord Jesus, I embrace this truth afresh that I have no right into the presence of God on my own. Woe is me if I tried. But praise your name that you have opened the way! I am welcomed in – welcomed home. Now part of the family. Now considered in right standing with a Holy God. All because of you, Lord Jesus. Thanks be to your name.
Reflect: Imagine, if you can, the fear and trepidation of the High Priest entering through that inner curtain. Is his heart racing? How often has he rehearsed all the needed steps, the sacrifices, the details? Consider now your freedom in Christ Jesus. Revel in the open door, the full welcome, the warm embrace. Reflect. Give thanks.