The Scripture that we come to this week in our study of Hebrews deals with the tabernacle that the people of God used for worship while they were wandering through the desert until the temple was built during the days of Solomon. The writer urges us to recognize the superiority of the new tabernacle that was brought about through Christ. He goes through the pieces of furniture that were located in the tabernacle and temple, items like the ark, the lamp stand, the table of consecrated bread, or the table of show bread, the golden altar of incense, and the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, or sometimes called the “Holy of Holies.” At one point in the ninth chapter of Hebrews we read, “But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.” (Hebrews 9:5 NIV)
The temptation for me is to spend all of our time going through each of the items of furniture in the tabernacle and show you how they were merely signs that pointed to the One who would be the reality behind the signs. Let me give you an example of what I am talking about. The lamp stand that stood in the tabernacle finds its fulfillment in the One who is the light of the world, who illuminates our path, and gives us direction. Jesus said, 5 “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” (John 9:5 NIV) The table of show bread that held twelve freshly baked loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, is fulfilled by the One who feeds us with bread that the world doesn’t know about. Jesus feeds us, sustains us, and fills us with the Word of God. Every item in the tabernacle was intended to point the people to the soon coming King.
I won’t spend all of our time looking at these items and the tabernacle itself this morning. The reason we won’t spend our time looking at the items in the tabernacle is because there is a word that has caught my attention that I feel we must come to understand before we leave here this morning. Let’s read our Scripture and then we will dig deep into God’s Word. Turn with me to Hebrews 9:1-14,
1Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. 2A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. 3Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, 4which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. 5Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. 6When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 7But 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. 8The 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. 9This 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. 10They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings-external regulations applying until the time of the new order. 11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:1-14 NIV)
The word that I want to take a deep look at this morning is the word “conscience.” The Greek word that is used here in Hebrews 9, is the word, “sunei,dhsij (suneidesis). The word means, “a perceptive awareness within oneself, the soul that distinguishes between what is morally good and bad, a prompting to do the good and shun the wrong.”
God has given us a conscience. It is a wonderful gift when we understand why God has given us such a gift. Long before I ever came to know Christ, I had a conscience. I didn’t know what I had when I was young; I simply referred to it as, “the little man in my head.” When I was getting ready to do something that I knew I shouldn’t, the “little man” in my head would raise his voice and say, “That’s not the way.” When I would disregard the message and go ahead with my plans, then the “little man” would once again pay me a visit and remind me of what I had done.
Later on, when I became a Christian, I learned that the “little man” in my head was not a little man at all – it was my conscience, a gift from God. I also learned that there were many in God’s Word who had faced the same moral dilemmas that I had faced and had been convicted by their conscience when they had messed up.
If you will remember, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden they hid from God. Why did they hide? They hid because their conscience was reminding them what they had done, what they were not supposed to do.
In the Psalms, we read David’s words about how blessed we are when our sins are forgiven, then he says that when he kept silent about what he had done his bones wasted away within him. Read along with me in Psalm 32.
1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”- and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5 NIV)
You can go through a long list of those in God’s Word who had to deal with a guilty conscience and we can relate so well with them because we have to deal with the same dilemma – what can we do to absolve our guilt. Sometimes our guilt spills over into areas of our life where we are not even guilty. Such was the case with two little guys who were used to being in trouble.
A couple had two little boys, ages 8 and 10, who were incredibly ornery and mischievous. The two were always getting into trouble and their parents could be assured that if any mischief occurred in their town, their two young sons were in some way involved.
The parents were at their wits’ end as to what to do about their sons’ behavior. The mother had heard that a preacher in town had been successful in working with troubled kids in the past, so she asked her husband if he thought they should take their boys to visit with the preacher. The husband said, “We might as well. We need to do something before they get into really bad trouble!”
The preacher agreed to meet with the boys, but asked to see them individually. The 8-year-old went to meet with him first. The preacher sat the boy down and asked him sternly, “Where is God?” The boy made no response, so the preacher repeated the question in an even sterner tone, “Where is God?” Again the boy made no attempt to answer, so the preacher raised his voice even more and pointed his finger in the boy’s face, “WHERE IS GOD?”
The boy jumped up out of his chair and ran home as fast as he could and slammed the closet door behind him. His older brother followed him into the closet and said, “What happened?” The younger brother replied, “We are in BIG trouble this time. God is missing and they think we did it!”
A guilty conscience makes life almost unbearable doesn’t it? There is not a single soul seated here this morning that has not had to deal with a guilty conscience at some point in his or her life. For most of us, there have been many times throughout our lives when we’ve tried to escape the guilt that we’ve felt deep in our souls, but didn’t know what to do with it. We’ve tried to absolve ourselves from our guilt, but it hasn’t worked. We’ve run our sin past our friends in a lighthearted way to try and gain their approval. They told us that we really shouldn’t worry about it, but we still did. We’ve tried a million and one remedies to free us, but that gnawing feeling is still with us. What do we do with our guilty conscience?
There are some today who try to downplay the role of “conscience” in our lives. They believe that we live in a day of freedom where we can do anything we want, live life any way that we want, and never have to deal with the consequences of our actions. My friend, you need to know that society can tear down every moral wall in your life and mine so that we can supposedly be “free,” but the absence of moral restraints will not lead to our freedom – their absence will only lead to our imprisonment and eventual destruction. Society can legislate new laws in order to free us from guilt, but they can’t legislate away our conscience and our having to deal with it every day.
The secret truth is this: even those who say they are free from their conscience are not. One of the most popular music artists today is Eminem. He has been pummeled by adults and preachers for his rancid lyrics and brutal attitudes towards women. Eminem would tell you that he doesn’t have a conscience, that he doesn’t wrestle with right and wrong. He can say all he wants, but Eminem evidently has some concept of conscience because on his “Slim Shady” CD he has a song called, “Guilty Conscience.”
The song is really a duet with Dr. Dre of NWA and Eminem. Dr. Dre is supposed to be the subject’s conscience and Eminem is supposed to be the subject’s flesh, his natural man if you will that lives according to the world’s ways of doing things. The entire song is about different guys being confronted with what they are getting ready to do. Let me read you the opening stanza of the song. That is about all I can read because the lyrics are so full of expletives that if I left them out the song wouldn’t make much sense.
The announcer begins by saying,
Meet Eddie, twenty-three years old.
Fed up with life and the way things are going,
he decides to rob a liquor store.
Eddie, the guy wanting to knock off the liquor store, says,
“I can’t take this no more, I can’t take it no more homes”
But on his way in, he has a sudden change of heart.
And suddenly, his conscience comes into play…
“This is mine, I gotta do this… gotta do this”
Dr. Dre, Eddie’s conscience, says,
Dr. Dre, Eddie’s conscience:
Now before you walk in the door of this liquor store
and try to get money out the drawer
You better think of the consequence
But who are you?
I’m your conscience
Eminem, Eddie in the song, goes on to wrestle with his conscience until he knocks over the liquor store. The song doesn’t end there though. Eminem introduces us to Stan, a 21-year-old man who hooks up with a young girl at a rave party and wrestles with his conscience as to whether or not he should have sex with an underage girl who has had a “knock out” pill put into her drink leaving her defenseless.
Next, Eminem introduces us to Grady, a 29-year-old construction worker who comes home from a hard days work to find his wife in bed with another man and immediately wants to kill her. The ways that he thinks about killing her are in typical Eminem style and shows us why preachers and others are concerned about Eminem’s demented mind.
Caught in a tense situation, Grady’s conscience tries to reason with him, tries to get him to take deep breaths, and think about things for a minute. As the conscience and the flesh wrestle back and forth they finally come to the same conclusion. Grady’s conscience and his drive to live like the world encourage him to get the gun and finish the job.
There are many biblical words that you can mention on the street today that people simply don’t recognize, they don’t understand. Words like “atonement,” “propitiation,” “regeneration,” and many others. There is one biblical phrase that all people all over the world can still identify with and it is the phrase — “guilty conscience.” Christian and Jew, Muslim and agnostic, atheist, and New Age practitioners can all relate to a guilty conscience. They can take you to the time and place where they felt guilty and why. They will all tell you that when their conscience was heavy with guilt they were miserable. Christian counselor, Dr. Gary Collins, helps us to understand why a guilt-ridden conscience can make us miserable in everyday life. He writes,
A guilty conscience is the uncomfortable feeling of regret, remorse, shame, and self-condemnation which often comes when we have done or thought something wrong… Often there is discontentment, anxiety, fear of punishment and a sense of isolation, all tied together as part of the guilt feeling… Such guilt feelings are not always bad. They can stimulate us to change our behavior and seek forgiveness from God and others. But guilt feelings can also be destructive, inhibitory influences which make life miserable. (Dr. Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, Word, Inc., Waco, Texas, 1980, p. 117.)
There was a doctor, who was wrestling with his conscience because of the continued reports he was receiving about how harmful sexual relations are for single women. Dr. Theocharides is an obstetrician and gynecologist in Elkhart, Indiana. He’s had to tell countless patients that their out-of-wedlock sex gave them incurable diseases or made them sterile. And he knows that birth-control devices give women a false sense of security against both disease and pregnancy.
So Dr. Theocharides came to believe that his prescriptions for contraceptives were enabling women to act against their own best interests. He concluded he was contributing to their experience of physical, emotional, and spiritual problems. And that he would be held accountable by God for abetting women in sin.
So the doctor made what he deemed to be a simple decision of conscience. In a Christmas letter to his patients, he wrote: “Because of the . . . epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, a single woman who is sexually active exposes herself to serious health risks. I have come to see that prescribing . . . contraceptive[s] to single women encourages or condones . . . a potentially deadly activity.” And he announced that he would no longer prescribe contraceptives for single women. Only days later, Dr. Theocharides awoke to find his photograph on page one of his local newspaper, the Elkhart Truth. Next to it was a report that quoted his letter. National news services soon picked up the story. The doctor’s phone began ringing off the hook and he came under scrutiny as many accused him of trying to control women.
But of course Dr. Theocharides wasn’t trying to “control” anybody. He was simply refusing to continue in what he believed was a hypocritical contradiction between his beliefs and his behavior. He said, “When you preach abstinence on the one hand, and pass out contraceptives on the other, you lose the power of your testimony.”
Dr. Theocharides has lost patients and come under the scrutiny of many people in our society, but because he has acted upon his beliefs he can now lay his head down at night and be at peace with the Lord. (Adapted from “Breakpoint Commentary,” Chuck Colson.)
When we suffer from a guilty conscience we must act upon it immediately. We need to confess our sin to the Lord and allow Him to clear our conscience in a way that only He can. Simply going to church and putting money in the offering plate or taking communion is no guarantee that our conscience will be cleared. We need to come into the presence of Almighty God and confess our sin to Him. The writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 9:9 that the gifts and sacrifices of the tabernacle and temple couldn’t get the job done. Read along with me.
9This 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. (Hebrews 9:9 NIV)
On the other hand the same writer goes on to explain to us that the sacrifice Jesus has made on our behalf is able to clear our conscience and make us free. Read along with me in verse 14,
14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14 NIV)
When we come to Christ and accept Him into our heart, He will clear our conscience and wipe away all of our sins so that we are free in the presence of God. This is not where things end though my friend. We continue to sin. As much as we may try we will continue to fall short of the glory of God. When this happens we must come before the Father and confess our sins on a daily basis so that God will forgive us and cast our sins in the depths of the sea.
9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1:9 NIV)
We must be sensitive to the work of God going on our life. We have the promise that God has given us the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and lead us into confession if we will only remain sensitive and have a pliable heart before the throne of God. (John 16:8)
The Apostle Paul said, “I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and mankind.” (Acts 24: 16). Paul meant that he worked everyday to live a life of holiness and submission in the presence of God. The danger comes in for us when we neglect the voice of God’s Spirit calling us away from sin and continue to live in sin. The Bible teaches that we can become hardened by sin and lose the ability to hear the voice of God. We can claim to know God, but have a conscience that has been so marred by sin that we become corrupted. Titus 1:15 tells us,
15To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. 16They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (Titus 1:15-16 NIV)
It is so important that you and I come before the Lord and allow Him to search our hearts and reveal the sin of our lives so that we can confess our sin to God. Doing good works won’t do it. Attending church won’t do it. Making an offering won’t cleanse your conscience. There is only one thing that can clear your conscience and that is the blood of Christ applied to our hearts and minds this morning.
I had a funeral last week for a wonderful elderly man in our community who didn’t have a dime, but he had Jesus in his heart. This fact made James a wonderfully rich man! When we gathered at Shiloh Summer Camp for his “home going celebration” there were about 20 folks who, like James, had lived a hard life and were now coming to say, “Good bye” to their friend. We read Scripture, told stories of James’ life, and celebrated God’s gift of salvation that He had given James.
While James’ friends were telling stories of their friendship with him I noticed a reoccurring theme which troubled me. They said, “James was a good man, a man who never hurt anyone, so I know the Good Lord has a better place for James.” When they had all finished I told them, “James was a good man. He never hurt me at all, but I need to tell you that James is in heaven this moment, not because he was a good man, but because God is good – so good that He gave His Son to die for James’ sin.”
I went on to invite any of them that didn’t have the security of knowing where they were going when their life was over to invite Jesus into their heart. Before I could finish a man stuck his hand in the air and said, “Preacher, I need you to pray for me.” He went on – I was raised in the church and baptized in the Baptist Church, but I have backslid and I need you to pray for me.” Before he finished speaking, a lady raised her hand and said she needed prayer as well. We were having a time of confession like I have never seen happen in a church.
The reason my friends were so quick to confess their need for forgiveness is because every one of us here this morning knows that we are not what God has intended us to be – we need forgiveness. We need to come before the Fountain of Forgiveness to have our consciences washed, cleansed, and made whole by the blood of the Lamb who was slain for our sins. Won’t you invite Him in this morning?