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Ash Wednesday
Hebrews 1:1-3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? We lock the doors of our home so that only those with entrust with a key can have access, we don’t want just anyone entering our homes. We put passwords on our online accounts so that only we who have the password can have access to our accounts, we don’t want just anyone looking at our information. We put locks on our safes or our gun cabinets so that only we have access to those things so that children can’t get in and be harmed. Access is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? Well, “access” was kind of the function of the Old Testament High Priest.

Over and over again in the OT God taught His people that their sins separated them from Him. The key individual who had access with God to intervene on your behalf was the High Priest.  In the Old Testament house of worship there were two rooms, the holy place and the most holy place. Only priests were allowed in the holy place and no one was allowed in the Most Holy Place behind a massive curtain except the High Priest one day a year – on the great day of Atonement. We’ve tried to illustrate this here at St. Mark’s by placing a curtain over our back window. It’s a visible illustration that our sins separate us from God, our sins block our access with God. So, in the Old Testament, if you sinned or did something wrong, you couldn’t just go to God to ask for forgiveness. You went to the High Priest. The High Priest would offer a sacrifice on your behalf to restore you with God again. The High Priest had a limited access to God, he was the go-between, the intermediary, between the people and God.

But the office of High Priest in the Old Testament was only meant to be a picture of the ultimate Great High Priest. All the old Testament priests were themselves sinners, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins, their work was never complete, they had to offer sacrifices for sins again and again and again, and they kept dying and so another high priest had to take over. But they were to be a foreshadow of the ultimate Great High Priest who is Jesus. The truth we’re going to focus on this Lenten season in our midweek services is that we HAVE, right now, a Great High Priest. Tonight we’ll focus on Jesus is our Great High Priest because He is qualified, through Him we are purified, and with Him we’ll be glorified. Qualified, purified, and glorified.

First, qualified. The OT high priests had special qualifications to serve in that capacity. He had to be from the tribe of Levi, the family of Aaron, had to be without physical deformity or defect, had to marry the right kind of woman, he could not attend funerals, had to wear certain garments. But what about our Great High Priest? We’re told, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Throughout the OT God spoke to great men – Moses, David, Isaiah – great men, but just great men. They were given bits and pieces, each providing a piece of the puzzle, but when all those pieces were put together the picture was of Jesus. If people listened to those prophets, how much more so shouldn’t we listen to Jesus! He is God’s own eternal Son! “Whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Wow! Consider Jesus! Heir of all things, Maker of the universe, radiance of God’s glory, exact representation of His being, sustainer of all things! The point is, don’t turn a deaf ear to him. Jesus is fully qualified to be our Great High Priest to tell us of heavenly things- listen to him!

Second, purified. One of the most important things that the High Priest did in the OT was provide purification for the sins of the people. On the Great Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 God tells us that the result of all the elaborate rituals that were involved with the Day of Atonement were this: “On this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.” But here, what are we told about Jesus? “After he provided purification for sins.” Interestingly, the OT priest, who normally wore fancy clothes, on the day of Atonement would actually put on different clothes, simple clothes, probably was covered in blood and dirt from the sacrifices and looked more like a slave than a king.

And isn’t that the picture we get of Jesus? On the night before Jesus died, he took off his outer clothes, got down on his hands and knees and washed the disciples’ feet purifying them from the accumulated dust and dirt. But there’s more than just meets the eye. It was a foreshadowing of another purification Jesus was about to provide hours away on the cross. When Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, what did Jesus say? “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” We need to be washed, purified, cleansed of more than our feet, but of our sin.

That’s what Ash Wednesday is all about. The ashes are an outward sign of what’s in our hearts. Dirt, dust, and ashes. The pride, the arrogance, the selfishness, the sins of our lives has stained us with a stains no detergent, soap, or anything we do can get out. It’s a spot that won’t go away. But that’s why we need Jesus, our Great High Priest. He went to the cross to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin. The blood of Jesus applied to our hearts, our mouths, our hands, our feet by faith cleanses us from all sins. Wash me, Lord, and I will be clean! Our qualified High Priest has purified us.

And finally, with him we’ll be glorified. “He sat down a the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” Jesus’ exaltation to the right hand of God confirms to us that His work of purifying us from sins is completed. But the incredible thing is that Jesus’ exaltation wasn’t just for him- it’s for us too. It’s meant to inspire us that Jesus is right now preparing for us a place in glory. God knows our weaknesses, God knows how difficult  life is here on earth, God knows how difficult it is to deny ourselves and follow Christ’s example through life in this world, so He promises us a place with Him in glory, we can be assured that because of the qualified Great High Priest, because He has purified us from all sin, so we will one day, in due time be glorified with Him forever in heaven.

We may have very limited access in this world, but because of the work of our Great High Priest Jesus, we have complete, perfect, total access to God forever in heaven. What grace! Amen.