Series on Hebrews, IV Superior Provision, B Superior Prototype, Text: Hebrews 9:1-15 Title: The Cleansed Conscience


The author of Hebrews last spoke of God’s covenant fulfilled in Christ. Now he speaks of the believer’s conscience being cleansed. If it is foolish to turn back from Christ because he is the fulfillment of the Jewish hopes, it is equally foolish to turn away when he is also the only hope for personal forgiveness. Your conscience is your mind  with the awareness of an outside censor. Cowardice asks, Is it safe? Expediency asks, Is it politically correct? Vanity asks, Is it popular? Conscience asks, Is it right? Consequently our conscience is the place in our mind where guilt can exist. An ignorant conscience, uninstructed by God’s Word, leaves us feeling guilty when we should not feel guilty and innocent when we should feel guilty. The author of Hebrews assumes that we have real guilt because we know that we have offended God and broken his law. Faith in Christ is the only remedy for real guilt. We need to see first of all the accomplishment of Christ and secondly the advantage it brings.

I The Accomplishment by Christ

In contrasting Christ with Old Testament religion the author describes the tabernacle and its services at length in verses 1-10, Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand, the table and the consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which 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. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now. When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But 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. God gave this to Israel and yet it was insufficient to clear the conscience. God forgave the Old Testament believers only because of the fulfillment which was to come in Jesus Christ. This Scripture does not say that Old Testament believers went to their graves with the burden of sin, as indicated by the words of David in Psalm 51 Wash me and I will be whiter than snow. It says that nothing in their OUTWARD religious ceremonies was adequate to remove the inner stain of sin.  The conscience cannot be cleansed by a church, or a priest, or an animal sacrifice as we read in verse 9, 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. Since we are not first century Jews we must ask how all of this is relevant to us. It is relevant because people are still inclined to believe that some outward observance can cleanse the conscience or obtain forgiveness.

A The Church cannot save

Sadly, millions of people in this country attend church but who have never had an inward experience of God’s grace. They erroneously believe that belonging to a Christian Church will somehow save them. Think of Paul’s words to Israel in Romans 2:28 and 29, A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical.  No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. Could not the same words be addressed to many many Christians? Multitudes imagine that they will fair better in the scales of God’s eternal judgment because they have belonged to a Church and been outwardly known as a Christian. The writer of Hebrews gives his detailed description to show how the tabernacle separated people from God as we read in verse 8, 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. The visible church will do the same thing if it is substituted for an inward experience.

B  The Priest cannot save

Others are convinced that only an earthly priest can hear their confession and absolve them of sin. But even people who reject that idea somehow think that the ordinances administered by a Pastor or Priest will bring forgiveness and cleanse their conscience. How many people have come to me who know nothing of God’s rules for marriage and who do not even know what a Christian marriage is, but they are persuaded that being inside a church and having a minister say words over them will somehow make a difference. Marriage in a church is not commanded in Scripture, but baptism is. How many parents who know nothing of God’s covenant grace, who never plan to attend a church or raise their child in the nurture of the Lord attempt to get their children baptized because they believe something magical will happen. How many people somehow believe that the physical elements of the Lord’s table are holy, and that physically consuming them will bring peace? Human Priests and Pastors are sinners like you. Apart from a personal relationship to Christ their ordinances will do you know more good than the service of the Jewish Priest in the tabernacle. We read clearly in verse 10 that the services of the tabernacle were only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

C The Sacrifices cannot save

This is perhaps the greatest pitfall. People say I’ve done the best I can do. Although this is doubtful, even if it were true, it would not help. Many think that by making sacrifices they can please God and get a clear conscience. They give their treasure, their talent, and their time in the vain hope of earning God’s approval. But the sacrifices we make in this life are no better than the animal sacrifices of Israel, the blood of bulls and goats. Your own blood will not atone for your sin. We need to remind ourselves of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 13, Though I give my body to be burned and have not love it profits me nothing. Love is inside of us. It speaks of a change of heart and a clear conscience. Love is put there by the grace of God and by His Spirit. Without this, all the sacrifice in the world will not save us. IN CONTRAST TO ALL OF THIS WE HAVE JESUS CHRIST WHO OFFERED HIMSELF AS OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST IN HEAVEN ITSELF. The author summarizes it in verses 11 & 12. When 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. He 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. Do you recall Jesus disciples being accused of eating with unwashed hands? Alred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah outlines the most elaborate of Jewish washings.  “ Water jars were kept ready to be used before a meal.  The minimum amount of water to be used was a quarter of a log, which is defined as enough to fill one and a half eggshells.  The water was first poured on both hands, held with the fingers pointed upwards, and must run up the arm as far as the wrist.  It must drop off from the wrist, for the water was now itself unclean, having touched the unclean hands, and, if it ran down the fingers again, it would again render them unclean. The process was repeated with the hands held in the opposite direction, with the fingers pointing down; and then finally each hand was cleansed by being rubbed with the fist of the other.”  A really strict Jew would do all this, not only before a meal, but also between each of the courses. And yet the conscience was not cleansed.  But the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin

II The Advantage given by Christ

I sum this up in the well known words from the Declaration of Independence. In contrast to earthly Sanctuaries, Services, and Sacrifices Jesus gives you life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Though these are proposed in our historical documents, we experience them in a very limited way. We live in a fallen world, but Jesus promises more.

A The Pursuit of Life-

Verses 13 and14, The 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. How 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! The conscience is cleansed from acts that lead to death. We are all the time doing things that lead to death and we know it. In Chapter 2 the author of Hebrews says in v.14 that Christ came to deliver us from the slavery of the fear of death. His resurrection, His victory is ours.

B The Pursuit of Liberty-

V.14 also says that the second advantage is that a clean conscience is free to serve the living God. We do this quite imperfectly, stumbling constantly, but we are truly free. If the Son shall make you free you will be free indeed. The new principle in us that wages war against sin will ultimately triumph. Sin will be eliminated along with death.

C The Pursuit of Happiness-

V.15 declares, For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. The ransom paid by Christ in his death guarantees our inheritance. The average American would be happy to know he was the heir to an incalculable fortune. This is exactly what we receive in Christ.


The week that princess Diana of Great Britain died, the greatest illustration of the pursuit of happiness in decades, or even centuries was played out before our eyes. I hope you were aware of it. The death of Princess Diana excited the sympathy of us all.  Her good works were emphasized in her death in spite of the confusion and sadness that characterized her life, and that is as it should be. But within a week, in Calcutta or some other God-forsaken spot a little old lady with two saris and a bucket died. I’m sure her conscience was clear. It is as if she, who had been at death’s door so often, finally heard the voice of God saying I have been waiting to make a point. Come to glory. I can see her now standing at the pearly gates a sari over one arm and a bucket in the other gazing at the glory she never knew on this earth. If you saw the princess’ funeral you had a rare treat of earthly pageantry and glory, but not what Mother Theresa sees. And I wonder if you paused to ask yourself about the pursuit of happiness. One visited the slums, but the one who lived there found her wealth and her fortune in God. How is it with you dear friend? If your soul is washed and your conscience cleansed by the blood of the lamb you cannot be richer or happier. It is impossible.