By Alison Hattan
I find I’m always aiming for perfect.
Be it in the day-to-day activities I choose or the living out of grand ideas or the refining of my character.
I always want the best.
It’s being made more and more evident in this season, as I look back on past experiences and grapple with the reality of who I am now.
And Hebrews is speaking into this.
The whole book of Hebrews paints the picture of how the Old Testament system was leading up to Jesus. It tells how Jesus is the fulfillment of the old system and how He is better than the old priests in His ability to offer a sacrifice that was enough to cover our sin.
As I look back on my life, I become aware of how I failed in many ways.
I see my desire to lead people and I see the ways in which I didn’t do it well. Memories flash of directing neighborhood plays that no one really wanted to do, of being voted team leader in my elementary school class until I wasn’t the one counting the votes, of getting voted choir council vice president for another year, rather than moving up to president, of planning events and chasing dreams without getting to know what the people around me wanted.
I find myself in a place of response to this where I’m often paralyzed from making any further decisions. Won’t pursuing another one of my ideas ultimately lead to me leading in that charge-ahead-without-considering-others-first way?
I realize again what my response to seeing a lack so often is: expecting perfection. I see the ways I’ve failed and expect to be able to change them and move on without them hindering me.
And so I stay where I am because it seems that honoring God means that I stop sinning.
Hebrews is reminding me that this isn’t the point.
Hebrews 9: 1-5 gives a description of the items set up in the tabernacle and each of these items is a representation of Christ in some way:
The lampstand, pointing ahead to the Light of the World (Jn. 8:12).
The bread of the presence and the manna, looking forward to the Bread of Life (Jn. 6:35)
The altar of incense, the incense analogous of prayers, leading onward to Jesus as the one who intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25).
Aaron’s blossoming staff, guiding forward to Jesus’ resurrected life as the proof of His priesthood.
The tablets of the covenant as the revelation of God’s character, moving onward to Jesus as the full revelation of God in the flesh.
There’s a sense of aching and yearning that comes from reading about the Old Covenant and that comes from desiring perfection. Both cry out for the perfect picture that only Jesus can fulfill.
The point of the law and becoming aware of my weaknesses is not to figure out a way to sin less, but to lead me to Jesus.
There, from that relationship, He changes me to become more like Him.
Reading about Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai, after being given the 10 commandments, I’m struck by this anew. As Moses comes down, His face is glowing from having been in the presence of God.
How often I look at those laws as an end-all and the perfect picture of what I should be as the point. But, just as God gave those guidelines from a place of relationship, revealing Himself to His people, so He desires to reveal Himself to me in relationship and allow a changed life to come from there.
This desire for whole, perfect, and ideal seems to be common among His people.
I hear it in the words of the mother who’s struggling against her desire for her kids to learn and grow as quickly as possible.
I hear it in the words of the leader who wants to see growth in people around him, but sees it happening slowly.
I hear it in the words of the couple who have a vision for something greater and always see room for improvement.
We’ve been given a picture of wholeness in Jesus and we long for it.
But the point is not to figure out a way to achieve that perfect picture ourselves, as quickly as possible. The point is to let it lead us to Him and enjoy the slow process that is transformation, in ourselves and in those around us.
This desire for perfection is so intertwined with holding ourselves responsible for our wrong-doings.
Again, Hebrews speaks to this:
For the law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had a consciousness of sins? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins years by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)
I find that I am very conscious of my sins. And I ask myself what this really means. Since we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to “make perfect those who draw near”, shouldn’t that mean that we “no longer have a consciousness of sins”? But, it doesn’t seem right that He would tell us to be completely unaware of them.
I look at the word and find that’s related to a sense of conscience, of right and wrong. And I realize that it’s not that we will lose an awareness of committing sin, but rather that Jesus frees us from the guilt and shame that sin brings.
Just as the law pointed forward to Jesus, our sin points us to Jesus, rather than being meant to get us stuck on our guilt. That guilt has been taken through our trust in the only one who is truly perfect.
We have been freed from the guilt and shame which sin deserves and freed from the need to be reminded continually of our fallenness through continual sacrifices.
This aching and yearning felt in the Old Testament system and felt by us as we long for wholeness is not meant to get us stuck in just how fallen we are, but to lead us to the One who is completely whole.