Jesus is our Self-Sacrificing High Priest

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4th Midweek Lent
Hebrews 10:5-12

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, our lives are full of different transactions, aren’t they? I mean, every time we shop at the store there’s a transaction- you give the store a certain amount of money and you get to take home whatever it is that they are selling. There’s a transaction that takes place. Or, maybe you help a friend out in exchange for them helping you when you need it. There’s a transaction. If someone commits a crime, they owe a debt to society and in exchange for the damage they have done they either have to pay a fine or spend some time in jail. There’s a transaction. Our sense of justice and fairness insists that there is an equal contribution by both parties in every transaction.  Perhaps that is somewhat similar to what happened in the OT times. When you sinned a transaction had to take place. You offended against God and in payment a sacrifice had to be made, something had to be given, something had to be laid on the altar. The high priest was the one who performed such a sacrifice.

During our midweek services we’ve been looking at Jesus as our great High Priest, He’s our perfect High Priest, our Compassionate High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. But…where’s the lamb? Where’s the offering? If Jesus is truly our great High Priest, he needed something to offer to God to make the transaction for our sin complete. What is it that Jesus offered to God as our High Priest?

Perhaps it’s somewhat surprising to read that God did not desire sacrifices and offerings and that God was not pleased with burnt and sin offerings. Didn’t God command them? Weren’t there many of them? Someone has calculated that there were about 1,200 public sacrifices in Israel every year! Every day two lambs were sacrificed, one in the morning and one in the evening, every Sabbath there were four, on the first day of the month there was a sacrifice of two bulls, a ram, seven male lambs, and a male goat, in addition there were special sacrifices for festival days, there was almost a river of blood coming down from the altar and mountains of animal carcasses in front of the temple.

But why? What was the point of these sacrifices? First, it was a regular reminder of the people’s sins, it was a constant silent sermon that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin earns death. But, it was also a reminder of God’s grace. The people didn’t die, a substitute died in their place. All these sacrifices meant to point ahead to the perfect substitute God would provide to atone for the sins of the world.

But over time, many in Israel lost the connection of the sacrifices to the coming Savior. They failed to see their sin and the need for a Savior. And they actually turned these sacrifices into things they could do to earn God’s favor. They thought that as they brought these animals that they were actually doing such a good work that God would be pleased with them for doing it. And so, their sacrifices became worthless in God’s sight, meaningless. That’s why God says, “sacrifice and offering you did not desire.”

We, too, need to be reminded of that. No sacrifice or offering that we could make can buy God’s forgiveness or bring peace to a troubled heart. We see that in Judas. Remember that after he betrayed Jesus he was seized with remorse. He felt bad and his conscience tormented him. So what did he do? He may have wept bitter tears, but that didn’t give him peace. He rushed into the temple and threw the bag of coins back, but that brought him no peace. He couldn’t do anything in order to get peace. The same is true for us. The only way we could ever pay for our sins is by spending eternity in hell, that’s the only transaction we could make with the holy God for our sins.

You see, it’s for that reason that it says, “A body you prepared for me.” Jesus, God’s Son, took on our human flesh and blood. Why so? So that he might have blood to shed for us on a shameful cross, blood that can do what the blood of animals and good works and gold and silver never could do, blood that can purify us and every sinner from every sin because it’s the holy precious blood of God’s one and only Son. Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me – a body that our Great High Priest would offer as the one great sacrifice for sin.

But was it an accepted sacrifice? Was the sacrifice of Jesus’ body acceptable to make the transaction complete, to pay for the sins of the whole world? Notice what we’re told: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came to do his Father’s will and completed that work. He said on the cross, “It is finished.” And God declared that His sacrifice was accepted by raising Jesus from the dead.

The writer to the Hebrews puts this in an interesting way, “Day after day every priest stand and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices…but when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” The OT priests were never finished, they offered sacrifices continually but were never done, why not? Because the blood of animals could not cleanse one guilty soul. But, when Jesus came and offered himself, he sat down at the right hand of God. When he was finished he could look from the beginning of the world to its end and see not one sinner left to be saved, not one sin left to be paid for. By his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, God has assured all people that Jesus’ work is completely finished and his self-sacrifice was accepted as the full payment for all sins.

It is good to keep the fact of our Lord’s accepted sacrifice before our eyes. Judas was not the last sinner to find that sin often sleeps but then wakes up to terrify and torment. His sin seemed small—a little greed, a little helping himself to a few coins from the treasury. Sin slept. Even when he conspired with Jesus’ enemies for a few more coins, sin slept. But when he saw Jesus condemned to death, his sin awoke with a vengeance. The chief priests had no consolation to offer—”That’s your responsibility,” they said. But our Great High Priest did have consolation to offer—even to Judas. Judas himself confessed Jesus to be an acceptable sacrifice—”I have betrayed innocent blood” (Mt 27:4), he said. Tragically, he refused to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was the sacrifice accepted by God to pay for sin and cleanse the conscience from guilt. May God keep us from the “little sins,”—the little greed, the little theft, the little lust, the little hatred. But should we fall into those sins and they wake up to haunt and torment us, may God open our eyes to see and believe what Judas rejected: Jesus our Great High Priest offered himself for the sins of the world, and his sacrifice was accepted by God! He sat down at the right hand of God—no further price is demanded, no more sacrifice required. Forgiveness is purchased and salvation is free. Believe. Rejoice. Live at peace here through Jesus until you live with him in his perfect peace forever.

Yes, Jesus is our Great High Priest who offers the greatest sacrifice—himself. He is himself the victim and our priest. May we by faith lay our hands on the head of God’s faultless Lamb and believe Christ has paid for our sins with his precious blood forever. Amen.

Wait in Sureness!

3rd Midweek Advent
Luke 11:37-52

Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom us, the captive Israel! Amen. In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

Keys are an important part of our every day lives. We need keys. We have keys for our cars, for our homes, for our safes, for our offices, for our work places, for our lockers. Keys are really important, but perhaps we don’t think about them much until they’re missing.  I don’t know how much time I’ve spent over the years searching for where I put a certain key. Keys are important- they give us access to things. If we don’t have the key, we don’t have access. So what’s the key to life? What is it that gives you access to the “good” life? Or the “successful” life? Or a “happy life”? What’s the key? How do you get access to that? There are all kinds of things to which people might point- having a successful career, having a good family life, having great health or a lot of wealth, what’s the key to life? While those things might be nice, none of those things are the key, because none of those things truly satisfy.

The Pharisees and experts in the law thought they had “the key” to life, but didn’t. The Pharisees and the experts in the law were very religious people. They claimed to strictly adhere to all of God’s laws and even added extra ones of their own. They were very highly respected by most people because they were so zealous for God’s laws. They were also the ones who taught God’s laws to the people. Well one of the Pharisees had invited Jesus over for dinner. Sounds innocent enough, but if you know anything about the Pharisees, you know what kind of terms they were on with Jesus. Did this Pharisee invite Jesus over to try to find some fault with Jesus? Perhaps- at least at the end of the account we’re told they were trying to find some fault with Jesus. And sure enough, a Pharisee is surprised that Jesus didn’t do the ceremonial washing- that was one of the laws the religious leaders had come up with.

Then reading their hearts Jesus issued them some stern warnings: you seem clean on the outside but are full of greed and wickedness on the inside, you religiously follow the tithe but neglect justice and the love of God, you love the most important and prestigious seats, you look innocent enough but inside you’re like dead and decaying bones!  When Jesus spoke these words an expert in the law felt insulted.  Jesus then addresses these experts in the law: you come up with these hundreds of laws that are impossible to follow and you don’t even keep them yourselves!  You claim to be pious by building these nice tombs for the prophets but that doesn’t make up for the fact that you don’t listen to what they say or to whom they point!

The final “woe” that Jesus addresses them is the most serious.  “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” You see, they totally abused God’s law. They had turned God’s law into a means by which they thought they could earn God’s love, earn eternal life. Instead of opening up the way to life, they were shutting it and hindering others from entering.

What about you? What if you or I had been sitting at that table with Jesus, what might he have said to you or me? You see, there’s a hypocritical Pharisee that resides in each one of our hearts. Deep down each one of us has this idea that if I’m just a good little boy or a good little girl God will have to love me. There’s a part of us that wants to treat God like Santa Claus – if I just stay off his naughty list and being a good boy or girl, God won’t have an option but to make things work out in my life. I deserve it. I’ve earned it.

But the door to real life, to eternal life is like a massive door with hundreds of deadbolts on it. And on each of these deadbolts are things like “Always generous, never greedy, always having proper priorities, never being hypocritical, always humble, total purity, always compassionate, always just, always kind, never selfish.” Do you have the key to unlock even ONE of those deadbolts? You see, there isn’t one sliver of your life or my life that isn’t totally corrupted by sinful motives, sinful attitudes, and imperfection.

But what did Jesus do? Sometimes love has to be tough. People often get the wrong idea that the opposite of love is anger. But that’s not true. If you really love someone, you’re going to get angry, you’re going to get angry about anything that threatens your loved one or your relationship to your loved one. The opposite of love is hate and the worst kind of hate is apathy, indifference. Jesus loves the Pharisees and the law experts enough to confront them with the truth of their sin. Jesus loves you like he loves the Pharisees. He comes with His law to shatter anything that threatens our eternal life, to demolish anything we might try to use to prop ourselves up with or make us think we’ve earned or deserved anything from God.

He shatters our pride with the law so we’ll appreciate the key of the gospel. The key of the gospel is the key of life, a meaningful life, a purposeful life, a good life. In fact, if you have this key- you have a blessed life whether or not your rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or unpopular, have a lot of friends or have few friends. This key makes all the difference.

So what IS that key of knowledge?  What is the key to a good life? What is the key to a successful, meaningful, purposeful life? What is the key to having peace with God?

It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished our salvation 100% Himself.  It’s knowing that Jesus has accomplished what you and I could not do.  It’s knowing that God was willing to come to this earth in order to save us, and that He did it, He accomplished our salvation 100%. In other words, the key to having peace with God is … to wait in stillness for the Lord, as our hymn put it.  To be still, and know that God is God, and that He loves us.

And Christmas says that to you.  Christmas says to you, “Spiritually you’re a helpless, hopeless human being, if left on your own.  But God hasn’t left you on your own.  Instead, He’s come to save you.  He’s come to rescue you.  For look, there in the manger is your God.”

And there’s the key!  And that key isn’t just for a meaningful life here; that key opens the door to eternal life!  And that key … is YOURS!  So wait for Jesus is sureness.  Knowing that Jesus came the first time on that first Christmas so that with His perfect life and innocent payment for sins He could unlock the door of heaven for you!  And one day Jesus will come back with the sole purpose of coming to carry you through that door into life forever in heaven!  Indeed, wait in sureness for Jesus, the one and only Key.  Amen.