Jesus Serves at a Great Altar
5th Midweek Service
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.