Priest Perfect

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

The Best Part Of Your Life

Hebrews 1:1-9, New International Version

God’s Final Word: His Son

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

The Son Superior to Angels

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say,

“You are my Son;
today I have become your Father”[a]?
Or again,

“I will be his Father,
and he will be my Son”[b]?
6 And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says,

“Let all God’s angels worship him.”[c]
7 In speaking of the angels he says,

“He makes his angels spirits,
and his servants flames of fire.”[d]
8 But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”[e]

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™


Hebrews 4:15 New International Version (NIV)

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.

He is not ashamed to be our brother

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20th Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 2:9-11


I know people get uppity about putting out Christmas decorations too early. But it was snowing the other night and as I was pondering the portion of God’s word for our meditation this morning, the words of one of our Christmas hymns popped into my head.  The second verse of “Now Sing we, Now rejoice” wouldn’t get out of my head.  Come from on high to me; I cannot rise to Thee Cheer my wearied spirit, O pure and holy Child; Through Thy grace and merit, Blest Jesus, Lord most mild, Draw me unto Thee! Draw me unto Thee!

In the words of the writer of Hebrews, we see God’s greatest purpose.  To draw us to himself, to have many sons and daughters and he did that by becoming our brother.  Today we ponder this: that Jesus is not ashamed to be our brother.


This a wonder that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews wants all Christians to see clearly.  The whole first chapter of this letter is devoted to speaking about the divine nature of our brother Jesus.  He talks about Jesus throne in heaven which endures forever, how he is served by angels, and how all of his enemies have been made a footstool for him.

Then he drops this bomb shell on us – It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What is mankind that you are mindful of them, a son of man that you care for him?

Part I: He came down to us –

As the verse says, he didn’t come as a powerful angel or some kind of super being.  It wasn’t the angels that he honored in becoming one of them.  As the words of the text for this morning say, But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while.  He became one of us!  He took on flesh and blood, not white armor, wings and a flaming sword.  No he honored us, human beings, flesh and blood.  With no merit or pleading on our part – he willingly said, “I will be a brother to them.”

Martin Luther said that he “willingly laid himself down in the muck of our existence.”  Except I’m pretty sure he didn’t use the word muck…  How?  Why? Who am I that God is mindful of me?  Almighty God, who as the psalm writer said this morning – knows how we’re knit together, for he designed it.  He knows our thoughts before they leave our lips.  He knows all our days, he knows every hurt that we will feel.  He knows every temptation that we face. He knows our every weakness. He knows every time I sin.

What is the greater mystery in Scripture?  Six-day creation? The doctrine of the interworking’s of the trinity?  The dual nature of Jesus?  Or the fact that God has, from since time began, had one great purpose founded in his vast love and boundless mercy – to dwell with us – to not be ashamed to be our brother!

Part II: He suffered for us

The inspired writer to the Hebrews says, 10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 

Here I take issue with the NIV translation of our text for today because I think it lends itself to misunderstanding.  The whole point of a translation is to clear up, or draw out the original intent and meaning of the inspired writer.  But this rendering of this verse in particular seems at a glance to not make sense within argument that the author of Hebrews is making.  He just got done talking about the Divine origins of our brother Jesus.  How from eternity he is God, yet he took on flesh.

The way this is translated makes it sound as though at one point Jesus was not perfect.  That some how he had to undergo a process of refinement in order to achieve perfection.  At least that’s where our english speaking minds go when we hear a phrase like “make perfect.”

The sense of the original Greek is that not that Jesus was “made more perfect” that makes no sense.  Rather, the sense of the verb here translated into English as “make perfect” is more along the lines of that he was brought to his goal, or completed his mission, or do what he came to do – and to the letter – perfectly.   A better translation is “…should bring the pioneer of their salvation to his goal through what he suffered…”

Jesus didn’t just come to live with us to learn what it meant to be human.  No from day one he suffered humiliation for our sake.  He was born of a virgin.  He was laid in a food trough for cattle as a crib.  Which of you mothers would do that to your own child?  Yet this was God the Fathers will! While God almighty, he was subject to our same emotions.  He knew what it meant to love and be spurned, his own people rejected him.  The creation didn’t recognize it’s creator. While he was the author of life he cried when he saw death.

He was brought through many sufferings in life. The last but certainly not the least of which was his cross.  Where the suffering, the punishment, the guilt for all our sin was foisted upon him.  And he dragged that eighty pound cross beam up the hill side and was nailed to it – There the pioneer, the initiator, the instigator, the author of life became the author of salvation – having been brought through many sufferings – completed his goal, did what he came to do – why? Because beyond all earthly comprehension, he is not ashamed to be our brother.

Part III: We are in the same Family –

Might it sound odd to you at this point if I said that what we’ve been talking about today, up to this point, is really relationships.   Seems like kind of an out of the blue statement, but consider this.  Our first lesson for today from Genesis was about the first marriage.  What happened after that whole incident?  Adam and Eve fell into sin and ate the fruit.  Their relationship with God was forever changed.  So then, their relationship with each other was forever marred.  Can you imagine the marriage fight that took place that evening that they fell into sin?

And so then we saw in the Gospel from Mark this morning, the pharisees questioning Jesus about divorce.  They ask Jesus why if God hates divorce, does Moses hand down laws concerning divorce.  Jesus replies, “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,”

It was because they were sinners.  See, our broken relationships the ones that we are oh so familiar with, bitter marriages, divorce, falling out with friends or relatives, disagreements with fellow Christians, brothers and sisters in church whatever – those things are but a shadow of the fact that we are by nature sinners and we have a broken relationship, we are estranged from our Father in heaven.

But it was ever the goal of our brother Jesus to remedy that, to fix that relationship.  Not that God would just tentatively tolerate us, but rather that we too would be brought to glory!  That God would have many sons and daughters.  The author of Hebrews says now that Christ took on our flesh and blood, that he laid himself down in the muck of our existence, that he passed through many sufferings, that he completed his goal – verse 11 – Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

He has compassion on us, he can empathize with us and our condition!  What greater thing can a church hear, what greater thing can sinners hear?  Cheer my wearied spirit Lord, cheer our spirits wearied by all our broken relationships and the bitterness, and angst that lies in them.  Cheer our wearied spirits with the reminder that our relationship with our father in heaven is a relationship of peace and love and joy.  Because God the father brought his one and only son through sufferings to his goal on the cross and then raised him in glory – we know he will do the same for us.  That we are in the same family!  He continually reminds us that we are of the same blood as our brother Jesus in holy communion when we receive his own body and blood.  He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters!  He is not ashamed to be our brother.


So say what you will about Christmas decorations going up early.  It is never to early to ponder, and marvel over the Word of God such as our text was for today.  Where we are reminded of how our savior became one of us, suffered for us, and is not ashamed to be our brother.  How could we ever be ashamed of him?

Now sing we, now rejoice,
Now raise to heaven our voice;
He from whom joy streameth
Poor in a manger lies;
Not so brightly beameth
The sun in yonder skies.
Thou my Savior art!
Thou my Savior art!

Thou our brother art!  Amen.

Jesus, Our Eternal High Priest

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Easter Sunrise
Hebrews 7:23-27

Editor’s Note: Due to a technical issue, the audio recording for this sermon is not available.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was, and who is to come, our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, In his name, dear friends in Christ, I counted a little over 50 baptisms that I’ve done since I came to St. Mark’s in 2011. Now some of them were of non-members and some of them were adults, but most of them were children of active members of St. Mark’s. For them, I’ve been their only pastor. But for many of you, you’ve experienced what is about to happen and that’s a transition of pastors, I’m leaving and soon you will have another shepherd here to care for your souls. A transition. The Israelites would have experienced such transitions as well. Their priests were priests for life…but they died. Historians estimate about 83 different High Priests in the 1400 years between Moses and the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. Priests came and priests went. And you’re experiencing that as well- pastors come and pastors go, but that’s what makes what we’re going to focus on this morning so comforting: In Jesus you have the eternal High Priest.

Throughout the OT there were good priests and their were bad priests, but all of the priests were the same in this: they were sinful. And since they were sinful they had to first offer a sacrifice for their own sin before they could offer a sacrifice for others’ sins. But Jesus was different. He had no sin. That’s the whole point. In fact, that’s what Pilate said when he said that he found no basis for a charge against him, that’s what the religious leaders said when they had to resort to false witnesses to bring a charge against him, that’s what Judas said when he said that he had betrayed innocent blood. Jesus is perfect – he truly meets our needs – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners.” So Jesus’ sacrifice was different. All those OT sacrifices were simply pointers, they couldn’t actually take away sin, but Jesus’s sacrifice could and did. He sacrificed himself on the cross as the payment for all sin of all time.

How do we know? Because He lives! Because He lives forever! Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is God’s proof that our sins are forgiven, that death has been defeated, that death can no longer sting us, Jesus has ripped the stinger out of death, one of my favorite illustrations of that is of a dad and a boy riding in a car together, the window is down and a bee flies into the car, the child panics because he’s deathly allergic to a bee sting and there’s no epi pen, the bee’s flying around when the dad grabs the bee in his hand and then let’s the bee go, the boy says, “Dad! What are you doing!” And then the dad shows the boy his hand, the bee’s stinger is in the dad, and he tells his boy, “The bee can’t hurt you any more, I took the stinger.” That’s what our God did on the cross, he took the sting of death, that is our sin, and how do we know it worked? Jesus rose from the dead! Now death can’t hurt us and our grave can no longer hold us! He’s alive!

And not only did our High Priest sacrifice Himself once for all to save us completely, but as our living Lord he goes with us interceding for us. You see, one of my jobs as your pastor is to pray for you- pray for you when you’re sick or hurt or in trouble, pray for you when you’re lonely, depressed or sad, pray for you when Satan tempts or when you’re wandering away. That was also part of the job of the high priest -to intercede for the people. But neither the high priest, nor I can do it perfectly, because we’re sinners. But notice what we’re told about Jesus: “He always lives to intercede.”

One of the first things Jesus said through the angels on that first Easter was, “Go and tell his disciples and Peter.” Why “and Peter”? Peter who denied him, Peter who had abandoned him, Peter who fled, Peter who had wept bitterly. What did Jesus want him to know? That Jesus is alive! That his sins are forgiven so that Peter, too, might have the joy and peace of Easter. That’s our Savior. That’s why we sing, “He lives to bless me with his love; he lives to plead for me above. He lives, my hungry soul to feed; he lives to help in time of need.”

Priests came and went. Pastors come and go. Friends depart. Family passes away. But Jesus lives! Because Jesus lives, because Jesus got out of the grave, because His grave is empty, because death could not hold its slimy grip on Jesus, because lives and will never die again: your sins are forgiven, your guilt is gone, death is defeated, your grave is destroyed, and no matter what happens in life, no matter what you face, your Savior Jesus lives to intercede for you, to help you in every need, and take you to your eternal home in heaven. He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

Mediator of a New Covenant

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Maundy Thursday 2018
Hebrews 8:6-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, friends in Christ, what is a “covenant”? That term is used all over Scripture, but it’s not something that we use a whole lot in our day to day lives, right? Perhaps we could think of a covenant as being something like a two sided contract that determines a relationship between two parties. We do have contracts in our society. If you contract someone to build a house for you, what you are saying is that you will pay a certain amount of money and the contractor will purchase the materials and hire the workers to build your home. So, in the end you get a home and they get money. It’s a two sided covenant. What about a one-sided covenant? Perhaps the closest thing in our world to a one-sided covenant is an infant child and his or her parents. The mom goes through a lot of pain to give the child birth, feed the child, nourish the child, protect the child, take care of the child and often at a lot of work and expense. What does the child offer the parent? The child isn’t going to offer emotional support, financial support, physical support. In a way it’s a one-sided covenant because even in our society it’s still viewed as a deplorable crime for a parent to neglect or abandon an infant child.

Now, in Scripture there’s all kinds of “covenants.” There are covenants between two parties of people, there are two sided covenants between people and God – where both have a responsibility, and there’s unilateral or one-sided covenant where God promises something despite the action or non-action of people. It’s such a new covenant that God promised in Jeremiah- which our text this evening quotes. But first we have to understand the old covenant.

One of the most important covenants was the covenant God made at Mt. Sinai with the Israelites- this covenant described how God was going to interact with his old covenant people. After God had wondrously led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt they assembled at Mt. Sinai and God made a covenant with them. It was a 2 sided, conditional covenant – He would be their God, their Protector, He would guarantee a great future for them- the condition was that the Israelites would remain faithful and totally consecrated to Him and live by all His commands. And to ratify this Sinai covenant Moses took blood from young bulls and half of it he sprinkled on the altar offering it to God, the other half he sprinkled onto the bodies of the people (Exodus 24) saying, “This is the blood of the covenant”. That ratified this old covenant.

But this conditional Old Covenant was always meant to be temporary. They had to repeat all these offerings and sacrifices over and over again. It was also meant to keep the OT people separate and distinct from all other nations until the promised Savior would come. It also, in a way, showed that it was impossible to earn God’s love by obedience. There was just almost this impossible list of rules, regulations, laws, and commands. Imagine living as an Old Testament believer- almost every aspect of your life was regulated from the food you ate to contact with dead bodies to how to clean mold or mildew!

Now, we have to keep in mind that the way of salvation, however, is exactly the same in both the old covenant and the new. In the OT a person was saved exactly like a person is saved today: through faith in Christ. It’s just that the OT person looked ahead to the Savior, while the NT person looks back to the Savior who has come. But God understood the human weaknesses and tendencies to sin, so in the old covenant, in the old way that God interacted with people, He provided a ton of pictures for people of what forgiveness looks like. They had all these sacrifices and offerings which pointed ahead to a future sacrifice and offering and assured repentant sinners that they were forgiven by God.

So, the Old Covenant was: obey me, keep my commands and laws, and God will protect you and you’ll live long in the land. But the people broke God’s covenant with them. Instead of sacrificing to God, they sacrificed to idols and false gods, they abandoned God, didn’t keep His commands. That’s what was happening at the time of Jeremiah –and because they broke the Old conditional covenant- the people were on the verge of experiencing the most severe covenant curse – their land was about to be destroyed and they were about to be hauled into captivity in Babylon.

So, in the midst of all of this, God promises a “new covenant.” A different covenant, a new way He is going to interact with His people. It is not conditional, it is unconditional and unilateral. It is an unconditional promise of God to the unfaithful Israelites.

We live in the new covenant. But do we sometimes think that church, religion, the Bible is all about following rules and laws? There are two pitfalls we can fall into. On the one side we could view God’s moral laws as burdensome- “Ugh, all this stuff about sexual immorality, coveting, honoring God by hearing His Word – it’s burdensome! Why can’t I just do what I want?” Or, on the other hand we could view keeping God’s moral laws as a way to deserve God’s blessings, like “As long as I do this, as long as I go to church, as long as I’m good, God will have to reward me and give me the things in life I really want.” But both are wrong.

You see, the new covenant is totally different. He’s going to put His law in our minds and write it on our hearts. What does that mean? This is a different covenant. It’s not about outward obedience but heart transformation. There are no rules, or laws, or commands that have to be kept. It’s about the heart, trust, believing. The center of this new covenant is “I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more.”  When did that happen? It happened when Christ offered the one sacrifice that really matters. He offered the once-for-all sacrifice that pleases God and removes sin and guilt. His blood shed on the cross removes sin forever. The new covenant announces salvation that is complete, finished, and above all, free through Christ. The new covenant is forgiveness of sins.

In baptism God seals this new covenant to us because in it He gives us the Holy Spirit and forgiveness of sins and the faith to believe it. In baptism we hear this promise of God, “I forgive your wickedness and remember your sins no more.” But that’s not it! In further grace God shares the meal of the new covenant with us in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies, seals this covenant of forgiveness with us. In the old covenant blood of bulls was sprinkled as an offering on the altar of God, in the new covenant Jesus sheds his blood on the altar of the cross, in the old covenant blood was sprinkled on the bodies of the people, in the new covenant God gives us his own body and blood personally in the Lord’s Supper. He ratifies this new covenant, He removes any doubts about His love for us, He comes to each of us personally to touch it, taste it, hear it, see it that we belong to him, we are one with him, all that is his is ours. When we receive the Lord’s Supper it’s a special assurance that we are the recipients of this new covenant- In the Lord’s Supper you receive the blessings of the New Covenant- the forgiveness of your sins. His lifeblood is our life.

In the new covenant God deals with us differently than in the old. Now God doesn’t have to beat you and tell you- now here are all the rules and laws you have to follow. Rather, God tells you what He’s done to save you and rescue you, so eternal life is yours. You know what that does? It sinks deep inside of you, in the Supper He gives you His own body and blood in a supernatural way with the bread the wine, and you literally cannot help but live a new life, a life of love! The new “law” is to live a life of love. And you want to! It’s not from a heart that’s enslaved but a heart that’s been set free, a heart that’s been forgiven.

So as you receive the Lord’s Supper this evening, receive forgiveness, receive the blood of the covenant, Jesus’ body and blood together with bread and wine that unites you with Jesus and transforms your heart to a live a life of love and service to God and others.

Enter the Most Holy Place with Confidence!

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6th Midweek Lenten Service
Hebrews 10:19-25

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, what makes you nervous? When you’re nervous about something you get a pit in your stomach, your hands get clammy, maybe you begin to shake, you can almost hear your heart beating in your chest, what is it that makes you nervous? Maybe it’s speaking in front of group of people, maybe it’s having a difficult conversation with someone you care about, maybe it’s doing something you don’t want to do, maybe it’s hearing a strange noise in the house at night. Being nervous can stem from a fear of being embarrassed or losing face or it can come from a fear of physical harm. Many of you know a couple of weeks ago I spun out while driving on the icy freeway and ended up in the ditch. If that’s happened to you, you know the feeling, I was very nervous driving on the icy roads for quite some time after that. What is it that makes you nervous?

I’m guessing that the high priest was pretty nervous when it came to serving in the tabernacle or the temple on the great day of Atonement. Why so? Because this is what God told Moses when He established the Great Day of Atonement, he said, “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die.” You see, if he or anyone dared to come into the Most Holy Place on their own whim, God said they would die. God was teaching something through that. It was the same teaching God gave to Adam and Eve after they sinned. Remember what happened? They had to leave the Garden of Eden, the place where they met with God, and God placed cherubim, angels, with flaming swords at the entrance so they could not go back there. Interestingly, God had cherubim sculpted on top of the ark of the covenant which symbolized God’s presence with the Israelites and there were cherubim also woven into the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In all of these ways God was teaching the people: sin separates you from God. Sin makes us unworthy to enter God’s presence.

So, can you imagine the High Priest entering the Most Holy Place on the Great Day of Atonement? What if he messed up? What if he went in without a pure heart? What if he didn’t do everything the right way? Add to all of that- apparently they would tie a rope around the priest as they ministered in the Most Holy Place and the end of the rope extended outside the tabernacle. You might think, that’s odd. But there was a purpose. If the High Priest died while in there, they had a way to get his dead body out! Can you imagine? Do you think his heart was racing, his hands were clammy and he had a pit in his stomach?

Maybe we can imagine. I mean, the only one who knows more about you than you is God. He’s been there and he’s seen ever dark shameful sin you and I have ever committed. We may be able to hide them from everyone else in the world, but not God, He sees, He knows. We may be able to conceal shameful thoughts in our heads about other people, but we can’t conceal them from God. He knows. We may be able to even almost completely hide from our memory things that we’ve done, but God sees everything.

And to go into His presence? One day we’ll have to stand before this holy and perfect and righteous and just God? That’s terrifying. He could justly and rightly strike us down and be done with us forever. Everything else in all of life that might cause you to be nervous ought to pale in comparison to having to stand as a sinner before the holy and just God of all.

That’s what that curtain symbolized. But what happened to that curtain? What are we told here? “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us form a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” Do you see it? When Jesus cried out on the cross, when Jesus said, “It is finished,” that temple curtain, some 60 feet high and 15 feet wide and as thick as a man’s hand, was torn in two. God reached down and tore the dividing wall in two. Why so? Because as Jesus died on the cross, those sins that had separated us from God, those sins that fill us with shame and guilt, those sins that wreak havoc in our lives, those sins- all of them – were placed on Jesus, He suffered the separation from God, He suffered the abandonment from God that our sins deserved.

All for what purpose? So that we can draw near, so that we can have confidence going into God’s presence, so that we can have full assurance, so that we can be cleansed and forgiven. In the OT only priests were allowed in the Most Holy Place, but now, Jesus has made you a priest, you get to go in. And boldly.

Think of the thief on the cross, he deserved nothing but judgment and wrath, but by the work of the Holy Spirit he saw in Jesus His Savior and with the boldness of faith he said, “Remember, me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

I don’t know what makes you nervous today or what is troubling your heart. But know this, the temple curtain has been torn in two, there is no separation, Jesus has sprinkled with his blood and cleansed you. God is your dear Father. You can go to him- instead of worrying, you can go into the Most Holy Place and pray to the Father who hears you and answers you.

And one day The Day will arrive when Jesus returns and on that day you have no reason to be nervous because you know that because of Jesus He will bring you safely into the Most Holy Place, in his presence forever in heaven. Amen.

Jesus Serves at a Great Altar

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5th Midweek Service
Hebrews 13:10-16

Editor’s Note: The text below was the intended sermon from Pastor Nitz.  However, we ultimately had a guest pastor, Gene Lillienthal, from our sister ELS church in Lengby, Lengby Lutheran Parish.  So, the audio and text do not match because they are different sermons on the same passages.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, have you ever been part of a spelling bee? The congregation I serve in Bemidji operates a Kindergarten through 8th grade school and yesterday we had another Christian school in town come over to compete in a spelling bee. It brought back to me memories of spelling bees when I was in gradeschool. You spell your word and if you get it right, you have a sense of delight, but the moment you misspell a word, you’re done, it’s over, you’re out of the competition. Were you ever part of one of those? There’s this sense of rejection when you lose, isn’t there? None of us likes to be rejected, do we? That same sense of rejection is felt when you play sports and you get cut from the team or don’t perform well and the coach puts you on the bench. Or maybe that sense of rejection is felt when a boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you. We just don’t like to be rejected, do we?

Well, we’ve been looking at the book of Hebrews on these Wednesday evening services. The people to whom this letter seems to have been written were Jewish people who had become Christian. But, it seems, that they had plenty of friends who were still Jewish and were trying to get them to go back to Judaism. And some of their arguments were about various OT things that Christianity didn’t have. Like, where’s your High Priest? Where are your sacrifices? And today, their argument is: Where is your altar?

These Hebrew Christians were facing rejection from others because of their faith in Jesus. But the writer to the Hebrews again and again directs them and us to the absolute superiority of Jesus. If you were an OT Israelite and you went to the temple complex the first thing that would have captured your attention would have been the altar of burnt offering. It was about 7.5 feet square and about 4.5 feet high. Almost like a big grill that kept burning continuously and on which the parts of the sacrificial animals were burned up and devoted to the Lord. For over a thousand years this altar proclaimed a powerful message to the Israelites- as the animals were slaughtered, as they bled and died, the would have been reminded that the wages of sin is death, that there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood. But those sacrifices had another message: God’s love spared the people and a substitute paid the price

But, these sacrifices weren’t all the same. Most of the time with these animal sacrifices the animal was slaughtered, part of the meat was offered to God by burning it on the altar and part of the meat was given to the priests to eat. But, on the great day of Atonement something different happened. The animal was slaughtered, blood was used for sprinkling on the Ark, but the priests were not allowed to eat any of it, instead the carcass was taken outside of the camp and burned. This represented the removal of the sins of the people. This is what the writer to the Hebrews is referring to: “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.

So, what is it that this is pointing to? He is pointing us to the cross which is the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement. He says, “Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.” You see, when Jesus was crucified he had to take his cross out of the city of Jerusalem and was crucified at Golgatha. Why so? What was God picturing for us? First, that’s the price of our sins, we deserved that shameful death outside of the city of God. But at the same time God is assuring us that our sins have been removed, as far as the east is from the west. The cross is our altar- the ultimate altar where the Lamb of God took our sins away once and for all.

But then he goes on here: “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.” The fact that Jesus was crucified and that outside the city shows how deeply he was rejected by most of the people. Crucifixion was reserved for the worst criminals and they despised and rejected him by having him put outside of the city. But what are we told? We are to go out to him, bearing the disgrace he bore. What does that mean? That means that we, too, must be ready to be rejected and despised for following Jesus.

Many people in our world do not want to hear: “The wages of sin is death.” Many want a god who does not care about sin, who isn’t serious about God’s Word, who condones any and every lifestyle. The don’t want a God who passes judgment on sinners and condemns those who reject him. And many will look down on us, despise, reject us for taking God’s Word seriously, for calling sin a sin. But what are we told? Let us go out to him. Face rejection for Christ. But why would we do that? He says, “Here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” The point? So what if clinging to Christ for salvation means rejection from the unbelieving world? This world is passing away! It won’t endure. But through Christ we have access to heaven, a city that endures forever. Jesus is preparing a place in heaven for all who cling to him in faith, despite the rejection and hatred of the world.

And where does that leave us? “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” Praise his name, sing to him, do good to others.

Why so? Because Jesus went to the altar of the cross, he was rejected, he was despised, all for what purpose? So that we might be accepted. I don’t know what rejection you are facing in life right now, but know this, Because Jesus was rejected, because he was not only rejected by people, but even by God for our sins, because he died on the altar of the cross, you will never be rejected, God accepts you has His own Child and you will live with him in the City that has no end- heaven. Amen.