The repetitive sacrificial system of Israel offered no relief from guilt. The author of Hebrews explained that in Hebrews 9:8-10. He said, “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” External ritual does not resolve the sinful hearts of man. Brown writes, “But our writer knows that the real barrier between man and God is not merely a physical one. The heavy curtain is symbolic. The problem is not purely external; it is internal, within our hearts and minds. The real trouble is what Bunyan described as ‘a wounded conscience.’ The old covenant did all it could possibly do. But it could not bring help to man at a point where it was needed most desperately, in his conscience. All the sacrifices and gifts in the world could not ease the most seriously disturbed part of man’s inner life. The better covenant offered full and complete inward cleansing.”[1]

Now Hebrews 9:7 explained that the sacrifice of the High Priest on behalf of the people didn’t deal with deliberate sin. It says that the sacrifice that the priest brings is “for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.” What happens to our “intentional” sin? Again, let me quote how Brown handles this issue. He writes, “No atonement was offered here for transgressions and offences which were of a deliberate nature. Man was seriously troubled by the fact that he had sinned not only inadvertently, through carelessness or ignorance, but consciously and rebelliously. What could the law do about people like us who are, in Forsyth’s words, ‘not even stray sheep, or wandering prodigals merely; we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands’? Can anything be done for the blameworthy sinner, overwhelmed with remorse, longing for release from the oppression and tyranny of unrelieved guilt?”[2]

In Hebrews 8:12 the author quoted from Jeremiah 31 to explain God’s attitude toward the rebelliousness of man. God says, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” The old system reminded them of their sins just as the frequent visits to the dialysis machine reminds the patient of his illness. Just as a new kidney would remove the need for dialysis, so too does a new heart through faith in Jesus, remove the need for sacrifices, rituals, rules and regulations. According to Ezekiel 36:26, the new order involved a transplant. God speaks and says, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” No work or ritual of man can clear a conscience. Only Jesus can do that. Stedman concludes, “Those who today try to earn a sense of being pleasing to God by good behavior need to hear this lesson. Never knowing when they have done enough, they feel troubled and restive without any heart-peace and thus are often driven to extreme measures of self-punishment and despair. They need to cease from their efforts and trust in Christ’s completed work.”[3]

[1] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 153–154.

[2] Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews: Christ above All, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 154.

[3] Ray C. Stedman, Hebrews, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Westmont, IL: IVP Academic, 1992), Heb 9:6.