May 16, 2017

Jesus Opened the Way

A few years ago, I visited the country of Israel. One interesting aspect of the trip was seeing Orthodox Jews who live by the teachings of the Old Testament but totally disregard the New Testament. In a sense, they gave a glimpse of what Old Testament times were like, which in turn gave me a new appreciation for what Christians have today.

One moment of the trip that really impacted me took place when our group was standing in the Western Wall courtyard. A ramp ascends from the courtyard to the top of the Temple Mount, where the Jewish Temple once stood. We noticed a warning sign above the ramp which stated in Hebrew and English: “According to the Torah it is forbidden for any person to enter the area of the Temple Mount due to its sacredness.” Our tour guide explained that the warning was out of concern that people might walk over the location of the Holy of Holies, the room in the Temple where God’s presence dwelled. According to Old Testament Law, anyone who entered that room would die (with the exception of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement). Since the Israelis have not been able to excavate the Temple Mount and are not sure exactly where the Holy of Holies was located, rabbis have instructed that no one should walk on the Temple Mount at all.

The thought came to me that for centuries Jewish children had been carefully taught that they must never—never!—step foot in the Holy of Holies. In stark contrast, as a child I was taught that because of Jesus’ sacrifice I could go right into the Holy of Holies.

Upon hearing that explanation, a friend commented to me, “Well, we don’t have to worry about that warning; we have access to the Holy of Holies. Jesus opened the way!” When she said this, it dawned on me that if Jesus had not yet come, that warning sign would be for me. I would be banned from the Holy of Holies, and with good reason. The thought came to me that for centuries Jewish children had been carefully taught that they must never—never!—step foot in the Holy of Holies. In stark contrast, as a child I was taught that because of Jesus’ sacrifice I could go right into the Holy of Holies (in a spiritual sense), and I was encouraged to do so. In fact, I was told that I should go boldly! What a shock it must have been for early Jewish believers the first time they read the words, “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace...” (Hebrews 4:16).

This experience reminded me that it is difficult to fully appreciate something I have always had. Yet, I don’t want to take any blessing for granted—especially not blessings that Jesus paid for with His life. I decided to spend some time considering what else Jesus provided for us. Here are a few things that came to mind.

His example. The Jews had been privileged to receive the Law, the only known written instructions for how to live righteously before God. In addition, they had historical accounts and inspired words from prophets and poets which revealed more of God’s character. Yet what we have today is far better: at the birth of Jesus, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus did more than just tell people how to live righteously; He showed them how to do it. His life set a pattern that we can follow. In moments when we are not sure about the right thing to do, we can ask ourselves, “What would Jesus do?” Having His life as a practical example to follow is an invaluable resource.

His teachings. There were some misunderstandings of Old Testament Scriptures in Jesus’ time, and He clarified many of them. Who better to explain Scripture than the Word of God Himself? Furthermore, Jesus gave teachings that previously had not been revealed. He gave us the principles of the Beatitudes, the memorable lessons in the parables, the example of the Lord’s Prayer, the hope that “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2), and so much more. Because of Jesus, we have a far greater revelation of the truth and more promises from God than individuals did in Old Testament times.

His atonement. God made it clear to mankind that a blood sacrifice is required to atone for sin, and for several millennia people offered animal sacrifices. However, the blood of animals is not sufficient to atone for human sins; those sacrifices could only point ahead to the Perfect Sacrifice. Therefore, animal offerings had to be made repeatedly. Atonement was never finished until the day Jesus declared it so on the Cross, paying the penalty for sin with His own Blood. Those who made animal sacrifices had a wonderful hope, but we have a finished work.

His priesthood. The high priest was the person who administered the process of reconciling people to God. However, he had his own sins that needed atonement, and he struggled with the same human limitations that we all deal with—limited knowledge, understanding, and physical capabilities.

Today, we have Jesus as our High Priest. He is not bound by human limitations, yet He understands our challenges because He lived as a man. Hebrews 2:17 says, “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest.” Thus, rather than a man representing us before God, our Advocate is the powerful, merciful, and faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ. We truly have the best.

He showed God’s love. We often talk about God’s love in church, and without question the primary example of His love for us is that He sent Jesus to save us. One of the most well-known verses of the Bible states this plainly: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son...” (John 3:16).

What was the primary example of God’s love before Jesus came? Could people possibly have comprehended the depth of God’s love without having seen the length to which He would go to restore our broken relationship with Him?

I wonder, what was the primary example of God’s love before Jesus came? Could people possibly have comprehended the depth of God’s love without having seen the length to which He would go to restore our broken relationship with Him? Perhaps the Jews thought they were not allowed in the Holy of Holies because God did not want them there, not understanding that He so badly did want them to dwell in intimacy with Him, but the way was not yet made.

Even after Calvary, it can still be challenging to grasp how much God loves us, but we are blessed to have the most beautiful demonstration of His love as the starting place for our understanding.

He is our Friend. In the Old Testament, people were often referred to as God’s children, His people, or His servants. Only twice was someone called His friend. However, in John 15:15 we read where Jesus said, “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” Because Jesus lived as a man, we can relate to Him more on a peer level. We see His friendship displayed at times such as when Mary and Martha were heartbroken by Lazarus’ death, and Jesus was moved to tears for them. Then he prayed for God to raise Lazarus from the dead, and He did. What a Friend!

Friendship with Jesus is not for a select few; He was even friendly toward sinners. In Matthew 28:20 He promised, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.” That means He will be with us through suffering, temptation, times of joy, ordinary days—always. There is no better Friend to have by our side.

He fulfilled prophecy. It is estimated that over three hundred Old Testament prophecies about Jesus were fulfilled during His lifetime. Many of those prophecies were not fully understood until they were fulfilled and the actual meaning was revealed. Consequently, we now have a better understanding of God’s plan for humanity and more evidence than ever before that God’s Word is precise and true. Based on the accuracy of prophetic fulfillment in Jesus’ life, we can be even more confident that not a single word in Scripture is accidental and not one prophecy will fail.

He opened a way into the Holy of Holies. The importance of this first example that came to me while standing at the base of the Temple Mount cannot be overstated. The Holy of Holies was where God dwelled, and before Jesus’ sacrifice there was no open access for people to come that close to Him. Hebrews 9:8 explains, “The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing.” God did want people to come close to Him, but they were defiled with sin and thus disqualified from entering. Because of Jesus, our sin can be fully atoned for and cleansed. After that has happened, we are able to enter into a more intimate fellowship with God and His Spirit can dwell in us continually. This is what we know as the experience of the baptism of the Holy Ghost.

After Jesus opened the way into the Holiest of All, the first people to receive that experience were the 120 who gathered in the Upper Room on the Day of Pentecost. That moment had been prophesied centuries before, and finally it was reality. I consider it a great privilege to be included among those who have received this blessing.

Jesus accomplished so much for us. People who lived before Jesus’ time were not completely left out; we know they could have wonderful relationships with God and make Heaven. Yet, “these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us” (Hebrews 11:39-40). Jesus’ death at Calvary was the pivotal moment in all of human history, and we are living on the better side of that event. An amazing opportunity has been given to us. We don’t want to take any of it for granted, but strive to obtain and appreciate every blessing Christ has made available.

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