There was a twofold character in the offering which has its counterpart for us in Christ: and the want of firm grasp of this, to distinguish and yet maintain them together, lies at the root of much want of enjoyment and of feebleness in the children of God. The first and most fundamental point was that in the offerings there was that which was consumed. Being identified with the sin of man, it was consumed under the wrath and indignation of God; or it went up as a savour of rest, as that which was sweet and acceptable to God, as for instance in the burnt-offering. In the sin-offering there was God’s judgment of sin, and therefore the greater part was burnt outside the camp. But, besides this, there was another character that entered into the sacrifices. In very many cases men partook of them. In the meat-offering and peace-offering such was the fact: and even in the offering for sin the priest had a portion.
And I believe that this is what is referred to here. These Jewish Christians were in great danger of forgetting their privileges. They had abandoned everything that they had once revered as the religion given them by God: they were no longer gazing on things that shadowed His glory. The grandeur, the magnificence, the glory, of the Levitical institutions—all was left behind. God was not now, as of old, thundering from heaven. He had wrought with infinitely greater moral glory. He had sent His Son from heaven: pardon and peace had been brought, and joy and liberty in the Holy Ghost; but all this was unseen. It is, however, one thing to enter into the comfort of the truth when all is bright and fresh, and another thing to hold it fast in time of reproach, shame, derision and the falling away of some. When the first joy is somewhat lessened, the heart naturally returns to what it had once rested on. And there is always this danger for us— when evil is felt, the blessing not being so present to the soul. Who among us that has long known Christ—known His ways— has not felt this snare?
And what is the divine remedy? It is just that which the Holy Ghost here uses—“Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” We must not sever this verse from the succeeding one: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines,” etc. The Holy Ghost would guard these Jewish believers against that which, compared with our own proper Christian blessings, is mere trash, earthly priesthood, holy places, offerings, tithes, etc. These things, after all, were but novelties compared with the old thing, which is Jesus.
Looked at historically, Christianity might seem a new thing. He had been but recently manifested; but who was He? and whence had He come? He was “the first-born of every creature”—yea, the Creator! “All things were created by him and for him; and he is before all things, and by him all things consist.” He was the One whom God intended to manifest from all eternity. And here we see Him in His complete Person—”Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” Through Him God could bless. With Him He would have us occupied.
We are told a little before to remember them that had the rule over us—to follow their faith, even if themselves were gone. But these all pass out of the scene, while “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” This is the only thing that abides unchangeably, and establishes too. “Meats have not profited those who have been occupied therein.” Many might have abstained—it was God’s bidding that they should; but if occupied with the thing, it was not for their profit. Christ was the substance: all else was shadow. Therefore He goes on to say, “We have an altar whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle.” If others have the husk, we are feeding on the kernel. (The “tabernacle” was used to express the Jewish system.) Everything had passed away in Christ. In Philippians the apostle could speak contemptuously of circumcision in contrast with having Christ, even though it was of God. To be occupied with it, now that Christ was come, was to be outside, to be of “the circumcision.”
“To eat.” It was not merely the offering, nor the burning of the offering, but the partaking of it. We have got Christ Himself, and our sins put away—sin, root and branch, dealt with by God. There is not now one question unsettled for us who believe. Has He one question unsettled with Christ? and if not with Christ, He has not with us, for He died and rose for us, and we are one with Him. As in the Jewish system, God and the offerer had their portions in the sacrifices, so now we may say that God has His own portion in the same Christ on whom we feed. The entrance into this exceedingly blessed thought is one of the things which the children of God greatly fail in—that we are seated by God Himself at the same table where He has His own joy and portion. Of course there is that in which we cannot share. In the burnt-offering all went up to God. The sweet fragrance of all that Christ was goes up to Him. We must remember that God has His infinite joy in Christ; and not only for what He is in Himself, but for that which He has done for my sins. When we think of this, all of self is absorbed, and must sink before it. The old nature we have still; but it is in us to be crushed. We have to treat it all, its likings and dislikings, as a hateful thing. But the new life needs sustaining. It grows by feeding. As in natural life, the mere possession of riches will not sustain life, but it has to be nourished; so in spiritual life, it is not only true that Christ is my life in the presence of God, but I must make Christ my own for my food—eating of Him day by day; John 6. He is in very deed given to us, to be turned by faith into nourishment for us. And the sweet thing is that we are entitled thus to think of Christ, given by God to be this food for us. It is not only that Christ is God’s, but He is ours too: our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.