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Exod. 24:1-11; 25:8; Isaiah 53

Jesus and the Sanctuary . When we think of the heavenly sanctuary as the place where Jesus’ sacrifice has made atonement for our sin, it is easy to overlook parts of the biblical record which have an important bearing on how we see God’s work on our behalf. Two types of passages are of particular interest in that respect: a) those which describe the life of God’s people when they had no access to a sanctuary; and b) the strong prophetic rhetoric against ritual when ritual is seen as a substitute for genuine moral behavior.

Discussion questions and themes:

  1. Blood. The key New Testament passage emphasizing the necessity of the shed blood is found in the book of Hebrews (9:22), a book which is preoccupied with the parallels between the ancient sanctuary ritual and the ministry of Jesus. But since we have had no “real” sacrifices since the time of Jesus, how can the “imagery” of blood be significant and/or meaningful when there is no regular reinforcement of the imagery?
  2. Place. Exodus 25:8 records God’s request for a sanctuary “so that I may dwell among them.” But how did God’s people find His presence when there was no sanctuary? The following eras are worth noting:
    1. From Eden to the Exodus (Genesis 3 to Exodus 20).
    2. From entry into Canaan until Solomon’s temple (Joshua to 2 Samuel).
    3. From the Babylonian exile to the rebuilding of the temple: 586 to 515 BCE (Before Common Era = BC).

    Now that the Christian’s attention is focused on the heavenly sanctuary instead of on an earthly one, how essential is a “place” of worship for the believer? What positive and negative effects can result from having a “hallowed” place to worship God as over against an “ordinary” place?

  3. Prophetic attacks on ritual. On a number of occasions, the prophets railed against reliance on ritual, even to the point where some scholars have suspected that the prophets were against ritual completely. The following passages are noteworthy:
    1. Amos 5:18-27: “I hate, I despise your festivals…. Did you bring to me sacrifices and offerings the forty years in the wilderness?” (vss. 21, 25).
    2. Isaiah 1:11-17: “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats…. Bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me…” (vss. 11, 13).
    3. Jeremiah 3:16: “In those days, says the LORD, they shall no longer say, ‘the ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; nor shall another one be made.”
    4. Jeremiah 7:1-15: “Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD’” (vs. 4).
    5. Jeremiah 7:21-26: “For in the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices” (vs. 22).
    6. Psalms 51. Note the contrast between the anti-ritual tone of vss. 16-17 and the cry for the restoration of ritual in vss. 18-19:
      • Ps. 51:16-17 (anti-ritual): “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
      • Ps. 51:18-19 (cry for the restoration of ritual): “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

    Question: In the Christian era when we no longer have a “sanctuary” and no longer offer sacrifices, are we are still at risk from relying on ritual to the point where we deny the moral imperatives which a life of faith requires?

  4. Jesus’ sacrifice vs. Jesus’ example (Isaiah 53): The modern tendency in evangelical circles is to point to the sacrificial and substitutionary aspects of Isaiah 53: “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases” (vs. 4) and “For he was cut off from the land of the living; stricken for the transgression of my people” (vs.8). Remarkably, of the seven New Testament passages which cite this “Suffering Servant Song” (Isa. 52:15 = Rom. 15:21; Isa. 53:1 = John 12:38; Rom. 10:16; Isa. 53:4-5 = Matt. 8:17; Isa. 53:7-8 = Acts 8:32-33; Isa. 53:9 = 1 Pet. 2:22; Isa 53:12 = Luke 22:37), the “substitutionary” verses are cited only in Matthew 8:17, but without any reference to substitution. Instead, “he bore our diseases” is applied to Jesus’ miracles of healing. Perhaps even more remarkably, when the Ethiopian eunuch quotes Isaiah 53:7-8, he stops short of citing the substitutionary phrase (Acts 8:32-33, citing Isaiah 53:7-8).

Question: If the whole tenor of Jesus’ life and teaching reflects the moral tone and spirit of Isaiah 53 (the bearing of one another’s burdens, turning the other cheek, going the second mile, forgiving one’s enemies), should that divine example shape our thinking fully as much as the aspect of divine substitution?

Question: Can an inordinate emphasis on Jesus’ example (which can result in a painful and deadly perfectionism) lead to a backlash where Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice overshadows the moral ethos of Isaiah 53 (which can lead to careless living)?

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