22nd Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 25 – B)
October 24, 2021
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle from Hebrews which was read a few minutes ago.
If you’ve ever tried to read through the Bible, you know how hard it is to get past Genesis when Moses lays out God’s laws for the Israelites. There are laws covering sacrifices, diseases, accidental deaths, and what can be eaten and not eaten. Did you know, for example, that if a mouse fell into a clay pot, the pot had to be broken and discarded? Or if an ox fatally gored someone, the ox had to be stoned to death and its meat couldn’t be eaten? If some of these laws, okay, a lot of them don’t make sense to us, can you imagine how the Israelites felt? To help the people understand and live according to the laws, God established the office of the priesthood. The priests led worship, ensured sacrifices were carried out appropriately, and made sure God’s Law was obeyed. Jesus gives an example of their duties in the account of the Ten Lepers. He told the lepers to go show themselves to the priests because the priests would declare them to be clean and able to rejoin their families, society, and Temple worship.
One of the primary duties of the priests was to carry out the sacrifices, especially those offered after committing a sin. Since the priests were sinful like everybody else before they could perform sacrifices on behalf of others, they had to first offer a sacrifice for themselves, which they did every single day. And because they were sinful, the priests were never allowed into the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies, the Holy Place was where toe Ark of the Covenant was kept and, most importantly, it was where God sat with His people. Only once a year was the High Priest allowed to enter God’s presence to offer a sacrifice and to then bring God’s forgiveness out to the faithful.
The priests were integral to all aspects of Israelite life, and they were a blessing God gave the people. They were more than workers though because they were also signs pointing to Jesus who is the perfect High Priest, and as the author of Hebrews points out, who is so much better than the Old Testament priests.
The author of Hebrews writes, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” Isn’t this a wonderful description of Jesus? These words essentially mean the same thing – that Jesus was sinless. Jesus is True Man born of the Virgin Mary and while He was fully human, He never sinned. Not once. He didn’t have to offer a sacrifice for Himself before He began His ministry. When the disciples went and offered theirs, Jesus didn’t tag along and offer His too. He didn’t need to; He is unstained by that nasty sin that makes us all dirty and unclean.
As the perfectly Holy One, Jesus stands before God, without needing to be declared clean and holy by anyone. I think we can also say that Jesus doesn’t just stand before His Father, He stands next to Him. Because of His holiness Jesus entered the presence of God and stayed there. He is exalted above the heavens, ruling over everything in heaven and earth. The priests served on earth while Jesus stands in the very presence of God in Heaven. The priests all died, but not Christ. He is permanently standing at His post, serving you before His Father.
The priests served their purposes, but now that Christ has come, He has shown Himself to be the perfect High Priest that you really need. We’re told: “Consequently, [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” I hope you catch the significance of what’s being said here, but just in case, you’re being told that you can approach God without fear, shame, anxiety, or whatever emotion you’re experiencing. Jesus says, “No one come to the Father except through me”, and since He has stepped into the Holiest of Holies, the throne room of God, He invites you in.
Have you ever considered why we often finish our prayers: “through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever, Amen.” When we approach God with our prayers, we’re obviously doing it through faith, and by doing it through faith, we’re doing it through Christ. Christ steps before the Father, waves us in, and we’re allowed to share with God all our prayers. And prayers don’t have to be full of praise. Some prayers are angry. Some are sad. Some are asking. Some are heartbreaking. Some are unrealistic. And God hears them all. His Son has opened Heaven to you and the Father wants you to share all your prayers with Him.
In fact, the Father wants you to pray to Him so much, that the Son also prays for you. This is sort of confusing. How can God pray to God for us? Honestly, the mechanics don’t matter, what matters is that Jesus, who gave His life for you, prays for you. I am a firm believer that prayer works; I’ve seen it in my own life, and I’ve seen it in the lives of others. So, if human prayers are effective, how much more are the prayers of God Himself? Think about it! Jesus, the Savior of the world, is praying for you right now! And unlike you and me who frequently daydream during prayers or don’t pay attention to what we’re saying, the Son of God is earnestly and faithfully praying for you.
The list of differences between the Old Testament priests and Jesus is quite long. Where they were flawed imitators of Christ, Christ does all things perfectly. Some of the differences are clear: Jesus doesn’t die, He’s sinless, He’s located in Heaven. There’s one huge difference that you might have overlooked. Verse 27 says: “[Jesus] has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.” Jesus didn’t have to offer sacrifices for His own sin because He was perfect. However, also unlike those Old Testament priests, Jesus didn’t offer a sacrifice for you and me of a lamb, an ox, or a couple of pigeons, He offered up Himself! Every sacrificial animal was flawed in some way because everything is corrupted by sin, but not Christ. Since He was perfect, He was the last sacrifice needed for your sins.
Jesus said in John 10, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” He sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross for you! He is the perfect priest, and He is the perfect sacrifice. People had to sacrifice animals repeatedly because they sinned repeatedly. You sin repeatedly, but Jesus only had to die once, and you never do. He is holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, while you are stained with the guilt of your sin. But don’t give up! Your lack of holiness and perfection is covered by Jesus, and this means you are saved. No ifs, ands, or buts! Jesus, the Lamb sacrificed on the wooden altar, was sacrificed for your sins. This means that when you feel condemned by your sins, when you know you deserve temporal and eternal punishment, when you feel shame, guilt, sorrow, Jesus stands with you before His Father and speaks on your behalf. You are forgiven! You are saved!
And how do you know that you’re forgiven? Listen to what the author of Hebrews says: “For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” God made an oath, He swore in His almighty love and holiness, to save you through His Son. God is faithful, God cannot lie, and so God forgives you for Jesus’ sake.
In the year 70 AD when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the office of Jewish priesthood d was dissolved. Without a temple, there wasn’t any need for people to perform sacrifices. That’s only from the Jewish standpoint. You don’t need priests or sacrifices because you have the Perfect High Priest who gave Himself as a sacrifice for you sins and by doing so has brought you into the most holy place – the presence of God.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen