Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
(Hebrews 9:23-28 ESV)
Back in the 1980s, as I began building a small non-profit youth ministry, I inherited a mimeograph machine. They were already becoming obsolete, though many churches still produced their weekly bulletin and newsletters on them. The principle of mimeography was that ink was contained in a rotating drum and fed through an absorbent pad that delivered the ink to a “screen” which the author of a document had created by typing on a special sheet that would be the basis for making multiple copies of whatever you were trying to reproduce.
Mimeography was messy; there were a lot of lost sheets of paper on any run, but if you knew how to speak kindly to the machine, you could do alright. All mimeographs knew their “owner” and responded to his or her touch. They were nearly living beings. The problem with mimeos was that if the ink ran low, you’d get dimmer and dimmer copies over time until you ended up reproducing nearly blank pages. On the other hand, get too much ink flowing, and you’d get so much “bleed” as to make the type almost illegible.
Here in Hebrews 9 we’re being told that the Temple sacrifices – in fact the whole temple itself – was nothing but a poor mimeo of something very real. The priests went over and over and over to the altar through the curtain, into the Most Holy Place. They were going through the screen and trying to use watered-down ink to make an impression on God. The more they tried to atone for the sin of the people with the blood of bulls and lambs, the dimmer the impression got. That is, until the blood of one priest made a perfect impression on the altar. Jesus, in offering his own blood for the sin of the World, forever stamped “Saved” on the altar of God for anyone who believes him.
I can try to make an impression on God or I can let someone else do it. I can keep squeezing my ink through the screen until I am dry to the bone, and all I’ll be doing is making an ever-fading image on the Mercy Seat. I can also let Jesus do what he does best: make one perfect image that will never fade from the very heart of God.
“Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:16 ESV)