Hebrews 9:1-14       “In Tents”


            One of the best-kept secrets of the West Kauai Ministers Association is that we deal in tents. In the time that I have been on Kauai, we have given out hundreds of tents. These tents are given out to homeless people, and are for the most part their only shelter. We started handing out tents through Nana’s House here in Waimea because nobody else on the island was doing it, and we saw a real need for shelter for people.

            Way back when in the Bible, it was noted that God needed a tent, too. You might be asking why it is that God Almighty would need a tent. Of course, the answer is that God does not need a tent, but God needs to shelter us under His tent when we come to worship.

You may see in your Bibles a special footnote on what this tent was called. This special tent where God would meet God’s people was called “tabernacle.”  Yet, and to be perfectly clear, that is not the Hebrew word at all. That word is “mishkan.” The term “tabernacle” is really just the Latin word for tent.

The Greek word that is used in the original text is oddly enough “skini.” Yes, it is related to the English word “skin.” And, the original tents that the Hebrew people used were made rightly of animal skins. So, the whole idea is coming together now. In order to make a tent, someone will have sacrificed some animals. It is partly this sacrifice that makes the tabernacle holy to God.

I want you to remember back to the Garden of Eden, the first few pages of the bible. You will recall that Adam and Eve were naked and did not seem to notice that at all. Then, they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, saw that they were naked and were then banished from Paradise. God sets an angel at the gate to Paradise with a fiery sword. Yet, God just does not let these two people go out into the world naked and unprotected. Genesis 3:20, “and the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.” Sooooo, God started the whole fashion industry as we know it today!

But wait. Where did those skins come from to make clothes for Adam and Eve? Well, when death entered the Garden of Eden through Satan’s trickery, animals began to die; hence, their skins were available for sewing into clothing.

Later, we see that animal skins are not just useful for clothing, but also for mobile shelters, tents, tabernacles, and teepees. When later in the Bible we read how the Hebrew slaves were led by Moses out of Egypt, and are kept wandering in the desert for forty years, we see that animal skin tents is where they have to find shelter. There are no permanent structures. Sooo, even church has to be a tent.

God realizes this of course and gives Moses the exact layouts for the tabernacle. Right after Moses goes up to Mount Sinai and gets the Ten Commandments, the almost the very next words that come from the Burning Bush are the blue prints for this tent. We can pick this up in Exodus 26:15 and on, “You shall make upright frames.. . .”


In the time of King David, the tent of the holiest of holies, the tabernacle, was moved to Jerusalem, the new capital city, from Shiloh. Then, still following the dimensions for a tent, the physical temple of Jerusalem was built. The design was really quite the same. Inside the Temple, the curtains were exactly as described by God in the Bible. Awnings and tapestries inside the Temple still made it feel like the original tabernacle. To this day, Jewish synagogues tend to follow the rules for building a place of worship.

Now it was not just rules for the building and décor inside. There were also “regulations for worship.” I am not sure if the translation “regulation” is really the best way to translate the word here. A concept is being introduced here in this word in the Greek that is akin to “justifications.” Is the worship in its formula being judged right by God? We tend not to ever want to even think about this, but it is an idea that comes on in the Bible very early. In Genesis 4 we have the story of Cain and Abel. Both brothers make offerings to God. The Bible tells us that Cain’s offering was not regarded by God. Cain became angry not just with God, but with his brother, whom he ends up murdering.

Let me just share with you Genesis 4:6, God’s admonition to Cain before the murder, “Why are you angry and your countenance has fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted?” So, God tells Cain that his sacrifice is not “well with God.” But, it can be. If it is, it will be accepted. In this story we see what is then understood that there is justified worship by God. God finds worship either acceptable or not acceptable.

A huge part of the Gospels is dedicated to this very question: What does God find to be acceptable worship. Jesus, being God incarnate, enters the Temple in Jerusalem and proceeds to turn over the tables of the moneychangers (John 2:13) because that is not what is supposed to be a part of the worship of God. Buying and selling, therefore, is not an acceptable form of worship according to the Lord.

One of the greatest series of regulations back in the day for worshipping in the tabernacle or Temple was the ritualistic cleanliness rules. Jesus tears those to shreds with his story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25). A man is robbed and left to die on the road,  a priest comes along but crosses to the other side of the road. He does this to remain ritualistically clean so that he can enter the Temple. Next a Levite comes and also crosses the road without lending assistance. He, too, needs to remain ritualistically clean. Finally, a Samaritan (one who is considered by the priesthood to always be unclean) comes to the aid of the man. So, if your worship is stopping you from loving on your neighbor, then your worship is not justified by God!

The last line of our scripture speaks to this whole concept very clearly: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dear works to worship the living God. How could the priest and the Levite in good conscience go to worship God after leaving a man to die on the road?

Another profound example of this is that when it was time for Jesus to be purified into God’s ministry, Jesus did not go to the Chief Priests to be baptized or anointed. He was baptized by John, wearing a camel hair cloth, in the River Jordan. That, and not the other, was found by God to be justified and right worship. It was acceptable to God!

That is why, we pray together before the sermon, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be found acceptable. . . .” Lord, let me not be the Levite walking on the wrong side of the road—engaging in dead works for your name’s sake! Rather, purify my conscience by your Spirit and the blood of Christ. Let my whole life and being worship you in all that I do.


About five years ago my friend John and his family were here during Easter break from school. His wife is a tutor, and his children were in school still, so it was good time for them to make the trip. They came to Easter worship here with us. It was also a first Sunday of the month, so we offered communion as always. Now, I will be honest with you. My friend John, whom I have known for over fifty years now, and I had never shared in the Body and Blood of Christ together before. He had worshipped in my church before, but not on a first Sunday. I attended his father’s funeral in the Catholic church, and communion was offered, but I was not Catholic, so I could not partake by their regulations. At his marriage, I was allowed to come forward and read scripture, but at the time of communion again, I was barred.

We had known each other since first grade and had never shared in the Body and Blood of Christ together because of worship “regulations.” They came over after worship to share in the Easter meal together with us. I just had to mention how incredible it was to see him and his family share in the communion with all of us. I just knew in my heart that God was pleased! I let him know that!

Worship that excludes others and causes hate to fester among neighbors is not justified worship. I can list dozens of historical and modern day examples, but I know you all know what I am talking about. But, I cannot help myself this morning. I must just throw out the one glaring example from the news cycle: the Taliban in Afghanistan.


Let me close today with a great message of hope that comes from verse 11. We read the words “the perfect tent” (which is not of this creation). The word “perfect” here is “teleos” in reference to the End of Days. Yes, this is a reference to the building of the final tabernacle, the last tent that God is going to create. The meaning here is the New Jerusalem, the last Temple.

With Jesus Christ, the temple created out of animal skins and animal sacrifice is no longer valid. With the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus, we can now enter the new Creation that God is making for us. Just as God gave skins to Adam and Eve, and instructions on the building of an earthly tabernacle, now through Jesus God creates once again the paradise that we left when we sinned against God in the Garden of Eden.

Verse 12, “He entered once for all into the Holy Place. . . .obtaining eternal redemption.”