In the past chapters we’ve covered a great deal of interesting ideas about Christian life and how we ought to live it out. In a nutshell, we’ve seen that real Christian living is quite different than the popular idea that it all boils down to ethics and religious customs.
In the first 5 chapters we saw that the key to Christian living is to live actively in a community of believers who help one another to look back to Christ as the author and finisher of our faith.
In Chapter 6 we got another reality check: Living a Christian life requires us to move past the basics of faith and questions like salvation and baptism, and move on to deeper truths.
Then finally, in Chapter 7, we finally got to move out of the simple stuff, the milk-food, and get on to the meaty stuff. We saw here that in Christ we have a Savior that was talked about even in the Old Testament, and that God has always intended/planned to provide a way of salvation that relies on God’s eternal goodness rather than on our temporal moral goodness.
Now in Chapter 8, we get to see yet again an idea of how God intended to provide us with the instruments for Christian life, only, quite differently from what people usually think: Our redemption is handled/taken care of on the heavenly altar a lot more than on the earthly cross, and in our godliness, it is not our morality but God himself that has center-stage.
- Christ’s redemption played out in the heavenly temple, and as such, is beyond Creation, and timeless. So his sacrifice on the heavenly altar is effective for all time. (vv 1-6)
- In the old covenant God reacted to people’s disobedience. With the new Grace covenant now God takes center stage and changes peoples’ hearts and minds. In this new system people know God because He reveals himself to us and teaches us (vv 9-13)
In a nutshell, Chapter 8 flips our usual way of thinking about Christ and Christianity on its head, and turns out that the real, Biblical Christianity is a lot more about God than about our performance.
Vv 1-6: Redemption happened on the Heavenly altar a lot more than on the earthly cross
In this part of the chapter we get to see some interesting statements about a heavenly altar and a high priest. And they all have instrumental roles in us today being able to call ourselves Christians.
What’s the heavenly altar, what happened there? Looking back at the previous chapters we did get to see some ideas that seem to be wrapped up in these verses. The heavenly altar is something that is outside our universe, outside our time, and Moses got a blueprint of how it looks like, so he can build a similar one in our time and universe, in our reality. What we don’t get to find out is whether this other reality is a spiritual world, or a different dimension, or a parallel universe. And what’s not given to us as information then is of no consequence of our life as Christians here and now. That is why we’re going to focus on what we do know cause there’s plenty to chew through.
So the heavenly altar is other-worldly, out of reach to us. The one people built here on earth, in Jerusalem, where priests offered sacrifices was just a shadow of the real thing. This one was built only as a model, a reminder of a greater one, other-worldly one that no mere human can get to. It takes an other-worldly person to handle the job of approaching this heavenly altar. And this is exactly what Christ did.
While we got to see the cross and Christ on it, the reality of the cross spanned from our world into the other one. You could say that the cross was set on this world but reached all the way to the other, so that the sacrifice of Christ, while done on Earth, also was done outside of this world and onto the heavenly altar.
And that is the miracle of the cross. Not that a perfect man got killed. Not that the author of life, God himself sacrificed himself for our stead. But that this sacrifice was done on the heavenly altar where the real reconciliation happens. The Good News then, is that in Christ we finally have someone who was able to get the job done, to offer a sacrifice of reconciliation between humanity and God. And since there was no better and more perfect sacrifice than the incarnated God, Christ offered himself on the altar so that this perfect sacrifice can forever be the method of cleaning us from our sins, and getting us closer to God.
Vv 7-13: God has center-stage in our Christian living
The great thing about Christ and his work on the heavenly altar is that it’s not news at all. In the Old Testament God has revealed that there was always an intention to get rid of the idea that you have to be a great person so that you can be close to God. These verses are a direct quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, which tells us that God introduced the Christ idea several centuries before the coming of Christ.
In fact, based on the sacrifice of Christ on the heavenly altar, we have forgiveness of sins, as v. 12 says. Based on this forgiveness of sins we can now know God. We don’t have to wonder who God is because he revealed himself in Christ. Looking at Christ is identical to looking at God (Heb. 1:3).
So what does all this mean to us?
While most of the times, people talk about Christ as a sacrifice, the letter to the Hebrews says that Christ is the heavenly priest a lot more than a perfect sacrifice. The text focuses more on Christ having a role of ministry rather than Christ being seated as the King. It doesn’t even bother to mention Christ as a perfect sacrifice. In fact, Christ being from the Order of Melchizedek has a lot more to do with Christ being in present continuous ministry at the heavenly altar than any other thing popular Christianity pushes for, like Christ the perfect sacrifice or the perfect example of how people ought to be etc.
This today would mean that we too ought to focus more on being like Christ in a sense of being in a daily ministry of reconciliation rather than being obsessed with moral supremacy.
This way of life will then push us away from hating the other: gays, Muslims, Orthodox, Catholics, Congregationalists, Evangelicals, Pentecostals etc. It ought to at the same time move us closer to loving the neighbour and loving the enemy by doing the ministry of reconciliation.
Christ ministry on the heavenly altar is bridging the chasm of our world and Eternity. The least we can do is make a bridge between us and people around us. While it is easy to love the hungry in Africa, we are challenged to love those around us, people we bump into on daily basis that we don’t even notice any more.
It may take eternity for the world to get better by us being Christ-like in reconciliation. But then again, it’s better to spend this earthly eternity being reconcilers of people instead of looking for reasons to look down at everybody that is vaguely different, and looking for reasons to deem ourselves better than the other because they’re not like us in every possible way. In this peace-making lies the difficulty of Christian living, not so much in running checklists of who’s done what and how ethical he/she is.