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.

The Ugly Beauty of the Cross

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4th Sunday in Lent
John 3:14-21

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, Snakes. How do you feel about snakes? Perhaps you remember the line from the movie where the main character says, “Snakes, it just had to be snakes.” A few months ago, Katie and I watched the Indiana Jones movie where he’s just about fearless about anything and everything, except for snakes, and near the end of the movie he ends up in this pit and it’s just covered with snakes, snakes everywhere. How do you feel about snakes? When I was in my vicar year in TN one day Katie and I were going to grill and the town home we lived in had a patio in the back with a grill. I went out there took the cover off the grill was working on starting it and Katie is just going crazy just inside the patio door and I look at her so confused, trying to figure out what’s wrong and she couldn’t even say a word, eventually I looked down and right at my feet underneath the grill was this huge, probably like 5 foot long black snake curled up underneath the grill. I jumped and booked it inside and we decided not to grill. How do you feel about snakes? Some of you probably don’t mind them, but I’m going to guess that the majority of us are not very fond of snakes.

But I’m guessing that we don’t hate snakes as much as those Israelites whom we read about in our OT lesson. The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for almost 40 years; it was finally time for them to head towards the Promised Land. Bust as they were going, they grew impatient, complaining against Moses and against God: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is not bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” “Miserable food,” by the way, that’s the manna which God had faithfully and miraculously provided them to eat every day to sustain them for forty years. They were complaining about that! Can you imagine?

Well, we probably can, can’t we? “I’m so sick of these clothes; I have nothing to wear.” Really? Who made sure that we have those clothes? How many clothes do we have? “I just don’t like this food; I have nothing to eat.” Really? Who made sure that we have food to eat? How many times don’t we have many options of things to eat? “I’m so sick of this car, my spouse never does what I want them to do, I never have enough money, my children never listen.” Hmm…perhaps we can relate all too well to the Israelites?

So, what did God do? He confronted them. He confronted them with their sin. He sent poisonous snakes among them and those snakes bit many of them and many of them died. Can you imagine how they must have hated those snakes? Can you imagine how they must have feared those snakes? How do you keep a snake out of a tent? Can you imagine being a mother, how would you have been comfortable laying your child down for a nap? Snakes were everywhere! It must have been terrible! They must have hated those snakes.

Now, perhaps we’re thinking, “Wow! That was pretty terrible. Why would God do something so drastic?” But what we have to realize is that the complaining, the bickering, the dissatisfaction was a sign of something much deeper. It’s like a headache. If you have a headache every day for a week, you might say, “I just didn’t get good sleep, if I got better sleep it’d be fine.” But the headache could be a sign of something much worse, like a brain tumor that will kill you. You go to the hospital and the doctor could say, “Here’s some Tylenol, take these, you’ll feel better.” But that won’t deal with the real cause. Or, he may slap you in the hospital and do all these uncomfortable tests to get to the real problem that could kill you.

And that’s what God did with the snakes. The snakes were drastic, but they caused the Israelites to see their sin underneath their sin- the sin that was killing them. It caused the Israelites to see their sin, it caused them to see how far their hearts were from God, it caused them to see their dissatisfaction. And underneath their complaining was really a lack of trust in God and the goodness of God. The same is true for us. When we complain, whenever we’re dissatisfied with what we have or the situation we are in, it’s really an attack on God, we don’t trust that God has our best interests in mind, that he loves us so fully and so completely that He will only deal with us in a way that’s for our best. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden where it all started. Remember? Satan comes to Adam and Eve, “Do you have everything? Do you have everything you want? Can you do anything?” “Well, we have everything except we can’t eat from that one tree.” They’re in paradise! And Satan convinces them to be dissatisfied! “That tree is probably 100 times better than every other tree in the garden! You can be like God!” Underneath our dissatisfaction is a deeper issue of the heart: a lack of trust in the goodness and love of God.

So, what does God do? He confronts them with the sin underneath their sin and it works. Notice that they don’t say, “Oh this is so awful” or “Oh this is overkill.” But, “we’ve sinned.” That’s repentance. Repentance says, “Lord God, anything you send me to wake me up is justified. Anything, because that thing which is devouring me spiritually, my sin, is so serious that anything it takes to wake me up and to get healed is justified.” They went to Moses with repentant hearts and asked Moses to pray for them and take the snakes away.

God’s answer to Moses’ prayer was, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Really? The answer to a snakebite is…too look at a bronze snake, hung up on a pole?? What you loathe the most, what you hate, what causes all your pain, you have to look at an image of that thing in order to be healed? It doesn’t seem to make any sense! (Some commentators even suggest that the poisonous snakes were bronze colored and so the bronze snake on a pole would have been that much more striking to look at.) Can you imagine the people thinking, “A snake? Why did it have to be a snake?”

But it worked. When the people looked at that bronze snake, they were healed. Why? Because God’s promise was there. God promised that they’d be healed by looking at the snake and they were. It seemed crazy, but it worked. Looking at what they loathed, brought them life.

What is it that we ought to loathe more than anything else? What ought we to hate and despise more than anything else? It’s sin, isn’t it? Sin is at the root of everything bad in our world. Tension and difficulties and hard feelings in our relationships with other people has it’s root in sin. The pain and hurt we feel in our relationships has it’s root in sin, whether it’s unfaithfulness, anger, lies, selfishness. The challenges we face with health, whether it’s heart attacks, arthritis, diabetes, bad backs, failing eyesight, loss of hearing- we wouldn’t experience any of those things if it wasn’t for sin. The difficulties we face at work, the problems with fellow employees or customers or stress, it’s all a consequence of sin.

And the worst effect of sin? It’s death. The wages of sin is death. Not just temporal death, not just our last breath or heart beat, but eternal death. You see, it’s because of our sinfulness that we deserve nothing more than eternal death in hell. We deserve to be condemned, to have an eternity of suffering. That’s what our sin has earned us. What we ought to loathe and hate and despise more than anything is our sin.

So what does God do? He takes all of our sins- every sin of every person – and he places them upon one man. Jesus is declared to be the absolute worst sinner of all because all of the world’s sins are charged to his account. And then what happens? He’s lifted up! Just like the bronze serpent was hung up on a pole, so Jesus was hung up on a cross. He was crucified. Why? Because our sins were charged to his account. All that we loathe in life was placed on Him. He was crushed for our iniquities, pierced for our transgressions. Jesus dying on the cross is the most ugliest thing in the world.

And what does God want us to do? He wants us to look to him for healing! God wants us to look to the world’s biggest sinner for…healing. And the results? “That everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Just like looking at the bronze snake, believing God’s promise, brought healing and life, so looking at Jesus, hung on that cross, brings us healing. The ugliest thing – Jesus on the cross – becomes the most beautiful thing in the world because it’s there where God gives us the eternal healing we need.

And so, it is thus, in this way that God so loved the world. So much so that he sent His One and Only Son, that everyone who believes in Him would never perish, but have life eternal. We see the love of God clearest as we see Jesus lifted up on a cross paying for the sins of the world.

Honestly, I don’t care much for snakes. I don’t think I’m ever going to have a snake for a pet. I don’t think I’m ever going to be comfortable with a snake. Perhaps you’re similar. Perhaps it’s because of what a snake represents, they could be poisonous, the could cause death, they aren’t very appealing to look at.

And similarly the cross isn’t appealing, it represents suffering, pain, and death. But it is precious to us. It’s precious to us because Jesus died on it. Jesus took our poison in Himself, took the punishment we deserved. He was hung up on the cross, not you, not me. And by doing so, He healed you, healed me, healed us forever. Amen.

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.

Lenten Heart Cleaning

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3rd Sunday in Lent
John 2:13-22

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, who has cleansed you and me from our sin, dear friends in Christ,

Do you like to have a clean house? In my house we’re in the midst of trying to pack to get ready for our move and no matter how hard we work, it always feels like we’re half done. Our house is a continual mess. If you’ve ever been through the moving process, you know what I mean. Now, add six kids in the mix. We have boxes here and there, piles of things here and there, trying to keep our house clean is a nightmare. What about your house? How much time do you spend cleaning? We spend a lot of time cleaning, don’t we?

Think about it, we have to clean our dishes, clean our clothes, wash the table, dust the house, pick up after children, vacuum the carpets, sweep, take out the trash, wash the bathroom, mop the floors, wash the car, shower, we even have to clean up our computers from time to time, the list could go on and on, right? And we have a plethora of tools at our disposal to do our cleaning: vacuums and brooms, brushes and cloths, soap and buckets, dishwashers and power washers.

But there’s a far more important cleaning that God wants us to be doing on a regular basis. It’s an internal cleaning. It’s a cleaning that can’t be done with brushes or soap. It’s a heart cleaning. What does Jesus want to clean out of you? What does Jesus want to clean out of me? Well, today we see what He wanted to clean out of the temple.

This event happened fairly soon in Jesus’ public ministry. This is likely April, and Jesus went to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem- a requirement for all Jewish males. And remember the point of the Passover festival. The Passover was meant to focus people’s attention on God, the Savior-God who delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, it was also to picture for them the sacrifice of sins that God was going to make for them not with a lamb animal, but with the Lamb of God.  And it was required that every male attend the Passover celebration in Jerusalem so that the images of God’s salvation might be drilled into them. So, some estimate around 4 million people would come to Jerusalem for the Passover from many different nations. So, it was a time that was meant to focus a person even more on God, but it became a time for the chief priests, the religious rulers, and even the Romans to make even more money on the all traveling out-of-towners who came to Jerusalem. Apparently, the Temple had some massive vaults where money was stored. They used this money to loan out to people at exorbitant interest rates and also used it for political intrigues in their dealings with the Roman rulers.

And it all became such a perversion. Imagine being someone who had to travel some distance to get to Jerusalem. You could have brought your own 1 year old lamb along to slaughter, but not only would it have been difficult to make the long journey to Jerusalem with an animal, you didn’t know for sure that your lamb was going to pass the inspection. Every lamb had to be inspected by certain people to make sure it was “without blemish.” No doubt, there were times when an animal was rejected and you had the further expense then of having to purchase another at an inflated price. And so, this is big business in Jerusalem –especially around Passover time. The wheelers and dealers rented spots not in the city, but right inside the temple courts in order to sell their cattle, sheep, and doves.

Why right inside the temple? Well, it would have been most convenient: A. everyone had to go to the temple and B. It wasn’t that far away from the place where you could offer the animal as a sacrifice. Add to this also that you could only use one kind of currency for paying the temple tax for the upkeep of the temple. So, if you came from far away – and there were plenty of people who came from different places around the world – you would need to trade your currency in for the currency that the rulers of the temple wanted. There were many money changers, shulhanim, available to provide this service and for some rent conveniently situated themselves also right inside the temple courts. Add to this that they were known for out of balance scales and scheming and cheating people out of a fair exchange.

Now, try to picture this situation: You’ve come from a long distance to celebrate the Passover. Now you have to enter the temple in order to first stand in line to exchange your foreign currency for the currency that the temple wanted. You listen as people are arguing and bickering with the money changers about dishonest deals or crooked balances awaiting your turn to do the same. Then after that ordeal, you have to stand in line and buy whatever it is you need for the offerings and sacrifices and also look forward to paying exorbitant prices. When the lines go down there are likely some money changers soliciting people as the walk by to stop at their booth much like someone might do at a carnival game at a county fair. In the midst of all this commotion the sun is beating down in this open air courtyard, cows are bellowing, sheep are bleating, there’s a raunchy smell of manure filling the air and wafting further into the temple complex, there’s the bartering and clinking of coins, and all of this happening right inside the court of the Gentiles –right where Gentiles could go to worship God! You get the picture.

But, then, suddenly, Jesus comes in, grasping a whip in his hand, suddenly he cracks the whip, driving the cattle and the sheep out of the temple, he turns on the money changers flipping their tables over, coins scattering and clinking all over the ground, the greedy eyed and scheming money changers and merchants are appalled and upset, but helpless to stop Jesus. And with righteous anger Jesus tells the people selling doves, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!

Wow! Can you imagine being there? Seeing that? It was bad enough that they were cheating people out of their money and doing it right inside the temple! But what was even worse was their hearts – they just didn’t care. They didn’t care that the temple – the visible symbol that was meant to remind them of God’s presence with His people – they didn’t care that the temple was a mess! And since they didn’t care, they totally missed the fact that the very one who fulfilled the whole purpose of the temple, in fact, God Himself, was standing right with them! So, Jesus picked up a whip and cleaned the temple and when asked for a sign to prove His authority to do this, Jesus told them a statement that they were going to remember: Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days. They missed the point, but Jesus was speaking about the real temple, Himself, His body, which would be put to death, but raised on the third day.

The temple was a mess because the hearts of the people were a mess. Greed, covetousness, selfishness ruled in their hearts and it showed in their lives by their lack of respect for God and His house. When our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. Perhaps it’s easy for us to look at this account and think, “Well, at least we would never do something as shameful, disrespectful, and sinful as that!” Right? We wouldn’t bring cows and sheep in here and try to barter them off for a profit, right?

Maybe not, but what are we willing to do? God’s Word actually calls our bodies the temples of God. Yet, what are we willing to do to God’s temple? Abuse our bodies with harmful substances? Fill our heads with thoughts of anger, revenge, bitterness? Pollute our minds with lust, greed, and selfishness? Use our hands to hurt or harm? Use our mouths to lie or tear others down? And why would we do such things right inside God’s temple? Is it not often just the same reason as to why they were abusing God’s temple in our text? That we begin to just not care anymore.  Where our hearts aren’t right, our head and our hands won’t be right either. But Jesus cared about God’s temple so much so that he did something about it. And He wants us to care about God’s temple too. What needs to be cleaned out of me? What needs to be cleaned out of you?

Jesus didn’t just clean out the temple once, he did this same thing once again during holy week. But that’s not all the cleaning that Jesus did either. Jesus kept the temple of His body 100% clean 100% of the time and then He ended Holy Week doing the greatest and most important cleaning that this sinful world desperately needed. It was the ugliest mess this world has ever seen as the dirt, grime, and filth of every single person who’s ever lived was swept up and located in one spot: on a cross. And yet, this was also the most beautiful and best cleaning thing this world has ever seen because by taking our sins upon Himself, allowing His temple to be destroyed, by bleeding and dying on the cross, He buried our sins in that tomb once and for all! Jesus’ blood purifies you and me from all our sins! And when Jesus rose from the dead as He promised all our sins were gone. Because of Jesus, you’re clean, spotless, without stain or wrinkle or any kind of blemish.

It is sin that makes us feel dirty inside, it’s sin that makes a mess out of our lives, it’s sin that makes us, God’s temple, stink, but that’s not who we are. In Christ’s blood you were washed, cleansed, sanctified, made clean and pure.  In your baptism God clothed you with Christ’s perfect life, in the Supper God gives you Jesus to sweep away all doubts about God’s love and wash away of all your sins, through the Word God fills you with the Holy Spirit making you His temple!

So, this week, when you find yourself doing some kind of cleaning, pause, picture Jesus cleaning the temple out, and be reminded how Jesus has cleansed you with His blood, and empowered by His grace, examine your heart, what sin am I clinging to? What bad attitude is residing in my heart? What indecent thoughts am I entertaining? Clean out whatever sin or filth or mess is there, leave it with Jesus on the cross and live as the clean temple of God Jesus has made you to be! Amen.

Jesus, Our Compassionate High Priest

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3rd Wednesday of Lent
Hebrews 4:14-16

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, I have a silly question for you, if you would like to know what it’s like to give birth to a baby, would you ask me, OR would you ask my wife who’s given birth to six babies? Obviously, you’d ask my wife. Why so? Because she’s been there, she’s done that. If you wanted to know what it’s like to live in Canada, would you ask me who’s never lived outside of the U.S., or my wife who lived there for about a decade? Obviously, you’d ask my wife. Why? Because she’s been there, she’s done that. The principle is: If you want to know what it’s like to do something, you ask someone who’s been through it.

We’ve been looking at the fact that Jesus is our High Priest as is shown in the Book of Hebrews. The author to the Hebrews seems to be writing to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to fall back into the old forms of Judaism. They were being persecuted for their faith. It was tempting for them to go back to Judaism. Judaism was a recognized religion in the Roman empire and so it was permitted. Being a Christian was considered a “new” religion, even though, of course, it is the only true religion and fulfills the true Judaism of the Old Testament.

Perhaps it was tempting for them to go back to following a visible high priest who served in the temple in Jerusalem. He was a human, you could see him, he was your intermediary between you and God. But, as God reminds us here in Hebrews, Jesus is far superior, Jesus is the Great High Priest!

First of all, we’re told that Jesus has “ascended into heaven.” He’s not just like the earthly high priest who worked in the temple and only once/year could go behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place. Jesus, has gone to THE Holy Place. Jesus is always at God’s right hand and is constantly interceding on our behalf.

So, “let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Hold firmly to the faith we profess. One of the classic examples of not holding firmly to Christ was Peter whom we read about in the passion reading this evening. In the face of the questions of the servants, Peter denied even knowing the Savior, with oaths and curses he said that he didn’t know “this man,” didn’t even acknowledge his name! He caved under the pressure of temptation, he gave in to weakness, didn’t look to Jesus for strength.

Has that happened to you? Have you been tempted to turn away? To not hold firmly to the faith we profess? Perhaps we’re tempted to turn away from our calling in life to be a faithful spouse or a faithful parent, just like Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness to turn away from his calling as the Savior. Or maybe we’re tempted to turn away in the midst of suffering just like Jesus when he was weak and hungry when Satan tempted him. Or maybe we’re tempted by friends to take the easy way out instead of standing up for our faith, like Peter tempted Jesus not to go to the cross as we heard on Sunday. So often we fail, we given to the pressure of temptation. But Jesus never did.

And isn’t that the good news? “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.” Jesus knows the full brunt of Satan’s temptations because he faced every one of them. And since he knows our weaknesses, since he knows what temptation feels like, he’s able to deal gently with us. Remember Peter? As Peter is denying Jesus, Jesus looked straight at him. Jesus’ look preached a silent sermon. Jesus knew, Jesus knows all things, we can’t hide our sins from him, his look called Peter and it calls us to repentance, our sin is not ok. Jesus doesn’t ignore our sins. But Jesus’ look was also a look of love. “Turn to me Peter, see what I’m doing here? I’m taking the burden of your sins- all of them- I’m taking them to the cross to pay for them in full. Come to me, turn to me, trust in me.”

Jesus invites us to come to him. He knows our weakness, He knows our sins. Confess them, lay them before Him.

And what does He do? Not only does He know what temptation feels like, but he can do something about it. If I visit someone who is sick, I can empathize with them- I know what it’s like to feel lousy and be sick, I can give some comforting words, but that’s all I can do. Jesus not only can empathize with our weaknesses, but as the all-powerful Lord, He can do something about it.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Jesus invites us to come to Him for strength, for help in our time of need. How do we do that? Remember what Jesus had told the disciples? “Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation.” God invites us to pray to him, to cast all our anxieties on him because he cares for us, to call upon him in the day of trouble, he will deliver us and we will honor him, even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

God invites us to pray to him for strength. And how does God give that strength? Through His Word and sacraments. Remember, God’s word is living and active sharper than any two edged sword. The gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. In your baptism you were buried with Christ and given a new life. In the Lord’s Supper God gives you Jesus for forgiveness and the strength to live a new life.

You see, Jesus is our compassionate High Priest. He’s able to empathize with us in our weakness, but he’s also able to strengthen us in our weaknesses, so let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Amen.

Jesus’ Cross and Ours

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2nd Sunday in Lent
Mark 8:31-38

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, “No pain, no gain.” Have you ever heard that old adage before? I think we all understand it, but most of us probably don’t like it. Take exercising, for example. I’m guessing that most of us realize that it’s important to be active, to exercise. I try to do that, once in a while. But I’ll tell you that there are days when I’ll absolutely dread it, put it off, come up with every reason not to do it, claim that I’m too busy, have too many important things to do, I think about running and the sweat, the fatigue, the heavy breathing, the struggle- I just don’t want to do it. But what’s interesting, every time that I have worked out, afterwards, there hasn’t been one time when I said, “Well, that was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done it.” Actually, quite the opposite is true, afterwards I feel better, I’m glad that I did it. So, it’s true, “no pain, no gain.”

But we don’t like that! We’d much rather have it easy! It’d be much easier to sit on my couch and eat ice cream and potato chips, it’d be much easier to sit and relax in an easy chair than to run on a treadmill. But in the long run, that’s far, far worse for me. But there’s a part of each of us that wants things to be easy. There’s a part of us that wants a life of ease, to experience success after success after success. The world in which we live is programmed that way, isn’t it? We couldn’t imagine living in a home without in door plumbing or electricity. In fact, it’s gone way beyond that, technology companies thrive on making life easier. Think of what you can do literally at your finger tips with a smartphone, or how you can sit in your easy chair and tell your voice-controlled Alexa device to turn the lights on, change your tv station, or order you something that will arrive in a package on your door step!

We want things to be easy. We want things to work out. We want success. And perhaps that’s a carry over from how it was in the Garden of Eden before the fall. Everything was great, everything was easy, there was no difficulty. But that changed when sin entered the world, but that hasn’t stopped us from longing for paradise and perhaps trying to create paradise here on earth.

So, the word of God that we have before us this morning is so counter-cultural, so opposite, so contrary to what we might normally expect or want. It’s likely the final year of Jesus’ earthly ministry. And for the first time Jesus reveals to His disciples the exactly what He came to do. “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many thing and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after thee days rise again.” Did you see it? Jesus MUST suffer, MUST be rejected, MUST be killed. Why did Jesus have to suffer and die?

Well, to understand that, we need to understand that whenever there is a crime, an offense, a sin there’s a debt that has to be paid. Think about it, if you’re at someone else’s home and you knock over their lamp and it breaks, there’s two things that can happen: either you pay for the lamp or they do. Either you say, “I’m so sorry, here’s 50 dollars for your lamp.” Or, they might say, “No, that’s ok, don’t worry about.” The debt isn’t gone, they are just absorbing the debt themselves. Either they go and buy a new lamp for $50 or they walk around in the dark, they’re absorbing the cost.

That’s the way it is with our crimes, our offenses, our sins against God. There’s a debt that needs to be paid. Either we pay that debt and all suffer forever in hell or God pays that debt. God looks at this world of sinners and His heart of love doesn’t want a single person to have to pay that debt. That’s why Jesus MUST suffer and die. God doesn’t want us to pay the debt of our sins, so He is going to absorb the cost of our sins Himself with His own blood. Jesus must suffer many things.

But Peter doesn’t like what he’s hearing. And so Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Rebukes Jesus! “But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” The term “rebuke” is the same term used when Jesus rebuked demons. Jesus had to suffer. If Jesus didn’t suffer, we wouldn’t have a Savior. If Jesus didn’t go to the cross we’d be hopelessly lost and facing eternal death. Jesus had to take up His cross in order to rescue and save us.

Then Jesus called the crowd to himself and said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Can you imagine being there and hearing these words for the first time?  Notice that Jesus does NOT say, “If you want to follow me, take up your great popularity, your luxury yacht, your calm, peaceful, easy, happy and painless life, and follow me.”  Rather, what does He say?  If you want to be counted as one of my followers, you must DENY self, deny your wants and your desires and your things, deny that you’re the #1 important thing of your life, and pick up your instrument of torture and follow me.”

Jesus continues, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.”  If someone loves their earthly life, the pleasures, the things, the toys, an easy life free from being confrontation, free from being attacked for their faith, free from a connection with Jesus, they will lose their eternal life.  On the other hand, anyone whose life is crucified with Christ, whoever can say, “‘I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,’ and there is nothing in this life that can make me deny my faith or deny my Savior, be it death itself,” that person’s life is saved for eternity.  How precious is one’s eternal life, their soul?  “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?  Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”  Permit the impossible for a second.  Even if you could have the whole world, everything in it is yours, all yours; it doesn’t even come near how precious your eternal soul is and how precious eternal life is!

Just as Jesus was serious about His work and was not ashamed to set aside his glory in order to save humans, so He’s dead serious about people not being ashamed to be connected with Him: “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”  One of the most dreaded things for any person alive is to feel ashamed, to feel dumb, to be looked down on.  But this makes sense to even human standards: if someone is ashamed of Jesus, ashamed to be a follower of Jesus, ashamed of what Jesus says, then it makes perfect sense that in the end when Jesus returns as King of kings and Lord of lords that HE be ashamed of them for being so foolish.

These are hard words from our Savior, aren’t they? Just like Jesus went from cross and suffering here to glory hereafter, that’s the pattern for our lives. No pain, no gain. It’s true for many things in life, it’s also true as Christians. But why? Why would Jesus tell us these things? Why would Jesus tell us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him? Sounds rather depressing, doesn’t it? What good could possibly come out of all the suffering that we face for being Christian? What good could come out of denying myself and my desires to put God and His Word first in my life and service to my neighbor second? What good could come out of a constant struggle in life not to sin? What good could possibly come out of the difficulties, the problems, the hardships of life?

God knows us better than we know ourselves. You see, if we had everything that we wanted, if our lives were pain-free, trouble-free, if we were continually successful, we would have less and less and less of a need for a Savior, we would have less and less reason to God to the Lord for strength in the midst of difficulty, we would so easily lose sight of Jesus.

But it is in suffering, in bearing the cross, that we begin to doubt our own strength, our own ability to save ourselves, we remember our sin, our frailty, our constant, total, absolute need of our Savior. Our crosses drive us back to Jesus and His cross, His suffering and death for our sins, the salvation He won for us.

Think about all the things that drive us to our knees today, that refocus our attention off of the things in this world, that cause us to look for peace and safety outside of ourselves and rather in our Savior Jesus, are we going to be complaining about them in heaven?  Are we going to be upset with those things that caused us to focus on our dear Lord and Savior in heaven?  Are we going to be troubled by all of the problems that made us give up our worldly security or self-security for hope and security in Christ alone, when we’re in heaven?

It’s Jesus and His cross that lead us to see that when we have everything, Jesus is all we need. It’s Jesus’ and His cross that also leads us to see that when we have nothing, Jesus is all we need. You see, because you have Jesus, because you have a God who loves you so much that He sent Jesus to suffer your eternal punishment, you have everything! You have eternal life! You have a God who loves you more than you will ever know! That means when you have Him, it doesn’t matter what you lose in this life, because in Him you have everything!

When I know the love of God for me in Christ, that God absorbed in himself the payment for all of my sins on the cross, that my King loved me that much to rescue me eternally, that in him I have life, joy, peace, hope, and heaven, I begin to find my identity, my success, my significance, my security in Him and in His never-ending love for me.

And what happens is that it changes my entire view of this life and the things of this life. Suddenly, I’m ready to give up all, forsake all, lose all things, because in the end, they don’t matter.



When you have it all- the only thing you need is Jesus

When you have nothing – the only thing you need is Jesus

Jesus our Perfect High Priest

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2nd Wednesday of Lent
Hebrews 5:7-9

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, perhaps you saw this news story, but two years ago there was a news story in the Twin Cities about a girls high school level basketball team that was kicked out of the Northwest Suburban Basketball league. The other teams refused to play against or forfeit all their games against this team from the Rogers area youth basketball association and why? Because they were too good, they were too talented that no one wanted to play against them. Well, what about Jesus? The question we’re asking tonight is, “Is Jesus too great?” Is Jesus too great to be the High Priest that we need? The High Priest was supposed to be someone who could relate to the people. The first verse of Hebrews 5 says, “Every high priest is selected from among the people…he is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.” So is Jesus too great? Last week we heard just how great Jesus is: he is the Son of God, Creator, preserver, heir of all things, radiance of God’s glory, exact representation of his being. So, if Jesus is so great, how could he possibly relate to and sympathize with people, with human beings? What we want to focus on this evening is how Jesus is our perfect High Priest in the way that prayed and in the way that he obeyed.

First, in the way that he prayed. We’re told in our text, “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.” The “days of Jesus’ life on earth” is referring to Jesus life on earth as a true human being. When he offered prayers with cries and tears, our minds take us immediately to the Garden of Gethsemane, don’t they? Jesus told his disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And we’re told about his cries, his tears, his sweat like drops of blood.

Why was he so troubled? Why did he cringe at the thought of what was coming? Because He knew. He knew that His hour had come, the hour of taking upon himself the burden, the punishment, the guilt, the shame of this world’s sin. We feel a tinge of that when we commit a sin and it burdens us, the guilt can eat us away- just over one sin. I saw a brief video of Nicholas Cruz, the shooter in Florida who killed 17 people, and he was sitting in court with his head down, didn’t say a word and is on suicide watch, perhaps the reality of his sin is crushing him. But, think of Jesus, he’s facing horrible prospect of feeling every ounce of God’s hatred, wrath, and punishment for every sin on the cross! His human flesh and blood cringe at this.

Jesus is the holy one, Jesus is the perfect one, Jesus is the one who committed no sin, perfect in every way. So, how is it that Jesus could plead with fervent cries and tears that if there is any other way, that this cup of suffering might be taken from him, how is it that Jesus couldn’t see that the cross was an absolute necessity to redeem this world of lost sinners? It’s because Jesus humbled himself. From his conception to his burial in the tomb Jesus gave up the full and constant use of His divine glory and power. Jesus humbled himself so far that He who created the angels is strengthened by them to bear this struggle.

He cringed at the thought of drinking this cup, but he never rebelled. In reverent submission he obeyed his Heavenly Father. No resistance, not a whisper of complaint. Just, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

Is that our prayer? Is “reverent submission” to God a description of our lives? Or do we use our time, our money, our energy in our own self-serving and selfish ways? If things go wrong in life – if there is pain or loss, sickness or cross – do we easily give in to grumbling or complaining? Is it “my will, my way, my body, my life” to do with the way that I want? Do we pray, “Not mine, but your will be done?” For all the times we haven’t, Jesus did. Jesus was our perfect High Priest he showed it in the way that he prayed.

But he also showed it in the way that he obeyed. “He learned obedience from what he suffered.” Not only did Jesus say “Your will be done” but He did it. He followed through, even when it meant the ridicule, beating, spikes in his hands and feet on a cross. He said it AND did it.

It’s easy to say something, perhaps harder to carry it through with our actions. It’s pretty easy on your confirmation day to vow to remain faithful to God, faithful to God’s Word, forsaking everything in life- even my very life, rather than deny God, but then when temptations come alluring, when sin looks so sweet, to give in. It’s easy for a bride and groom to say, “I will” “I will remain faithful to you, I will help and support you in sickness and in health till death separates us.” But then in action when I need to actually sacrifice, actually lay aside my wants or desires for my spouse, ooh, that’s difficult. It’s difficult to obey.

But Jesus did. He said “I will” and he did. He went to the cross and paid for all of our broken promises. “And, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” “And, once made perfect,” a better translation would be “After he had finished his work.” “finished” does that ring a bell? That’s what Jesus said on the cross: “It is finished.” Jesus finished the work, completed the rescue mission, won eternal salvation, our perfect high priest perfectly became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him or believe in him.

Jesus is our perfect High priest. He showed it in the way that he prayed and in the way that he obeyed. He obeyed his Father, finished the work that the Father gave him to do, even to the point of death on the cross. You have a perfect High Priest, pray to him, pray this his will be done, not yours, reverently submit to him, obey Him, for His will for you and your life is perfect because He is the perfect High Priest. Amen.

What do you value most?

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1st Sunday in Lent
Genesis 22:1-18

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, I’m convinced that when God brings two people together in marriage, He takes a man with strengths and weaknesses and unites him to a woman with different strengths and weaknesses and the goal is not that they fight about these differences, but that these differences complement each other. That’s true about many things in my relationship to Katie, but one that particularly stands out is my desire to hold on to things, to not get rid of things and Katie’s ease of throwing things away or getting rid of things. And I attribute this desire to hold on to things partially to my genes. You see, my dad has this gene, my Grandma has this gene, and my great-grandma had this gene. My dad tells the story about my great-grandmother who lived in a big farmhouse in Freistadt, WI, and she collected and saved everything. Well, one day, her husband was so frustrated with all of this “junk” that she saved in the attic that he opened the attic window and just started chucking it out the window. Well, about as fast as he was throwing it out, my great-grandma was going out gathering it and bringing it back into the house through the kitchen.

I’ve inherited this. And as you are all aware, my family and I are preparing to move to Cheyenne. Part of the moving process is going through our accumulated things and deciding what you want to move and what you want to get rid of. This is very easy for my wife, it’s very painful for me. But whenever you go through things, there’s this principle: that which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up. That which we value most, we are the most unwilling to give up.

So, the question is: What do you value the most in life? What are you most unwilling to give up? During Lent, some people take up the practice of fasting. They set aside something that is important to them, give something up for Lent. And, perhaps there are some useful reminders in such a practice, it can show us how frail we humans are or how much we so easily attach ourselves to the things of this world. But God nowhere commands that we fast. In a way, though, our entire lives are to be a “fast” in a sense. God wants us to value Him the most and be ready to give up anything that might get in the way of our trust and reliance on Him alone. So, what about you? What about me? What do you value most? What are you most unwilling to give up?

The text that we’re looking at this morning is really a climactic point in the life of Abraham. So we really need to understand what led up to this point. God had called Abraham, brought him to faith, directed him to travel to the land of Canaan, gave Abraham some incredible promises, promises like many descendants, a promised land that his descendants would live in, and, most importantly, through Abraham all people would be blessed, in other words, through Abraham’s descendants would come the Savior of the world. Abraham obeyed the Lord and moved to an unknown land. But then there was a famine in the land and Abraham had to move to Egypt for a time. And while in Egypt he had a choice: rely on God or rely on himself? He reasoned that the king of Egypt would see how beautiful his wife Sarah was and kill him to have her. So, Abraham relies on himself, says that Sarah is his sister and Sarah ends up in the harem of the king of Egypt. So God had to intervene and get her out of there. Later, Abraham has a problem. God’s given him some wonderful promises, but they all hinge on the fact that he needs a child, a son, which he doesn’t have. Again, rely on God or rely on himself? He relies on himself and takes his wife’s maidservant Hagar, sleeps with her, and has a child with her – Ishmael, contrary to God’s will. Then once again Abraham was afraid of a local king and has a choice of relying on God or himself, and he relies on himself, lies to this king, Abimelech and says that his wife is really his sister, the king takes Sarah into his harem and God has to get her out of there immediately!  Well, finally, God, in a miraculous way and according to his promise, allows Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to get pregnant. So a 100 year old man and a 90 year old woman have a child and not just any child but THE child, Isaac, through whom God would fulfill the promises to Abraham of many descendants who would inherit a special land and eventually the Savior of the world – Abraham’s Savior – would come from the descendants of not just any son, but THIS son Isaac. How do you think Abraham felt about his son? How would you feel if you waited for something for some 75 or 80 years and finally had it? Do you think he loved his son dearly? Do you think he played with him? Do you think this son was the apple of his eye and the joy of his heart? Do you think he cared deeply about his son?

And then we come to our text.  And remember, that which we value the most is the thing we are most unwilling to give up.  God tested Abraham. That’s what we’re told, not what Abraham was told, he didn’t know this was simply a test and everything was going to work out in the end. “Take your son, your only son, whom you love- Isaac, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” What??!! Sacrifice my son! Are you kidding! Is this some kind of sick trick! Not only was Isaac the son of Abraham’s old age, the long waited for son, Isaac was the object of God’s incredible promises, Isaac was the joy of Abraham’s life, killing Isaac wasn’t just killing his own son, that meant killing God’s promise of a Savior, Abraham’s Savior! But God knew something that Abraham perhaps didn’t even know himself. Abraham was in great danger. Danger of slowly coming to the point of where he would have loved and valued his son more than God Himself.

So, what did Abraham do? Early the next morning, he got up gathered the things together and set off for the 3 day, 50 mile trip to Mount Moriah where he would sacrifice his son. How it must have pained his heart! How the devil must have tempted him, “How could God be loving if he commands this?” How it must have felt like a knife in his heart when he heard his son say, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering.” How it must have hurt to think, “You, my son, are that lamb.”

You see, with every sacrifice that took place there are really two sacrifices that God demanded. There was the putting to death of the object of the sacrifice. For example, let’s say, a sheep. That sheep was to be slaughtered, killed, put to death. But there was another sacrifice, a more important sacrifice that was to take place. It was the sacrifice that happened inside the heart of the one who was doing the sacrificing. That for the Lord I am perfectly willing to surrender this thing, that the Lord is more important to me than this thing, I value my Lord more than I do this thing, the second sacrifice is the more important sacrifice. As NT Christians we don’t have sacrifices because our entire lives are to be one big spiritual sacrifice to God. “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to the Lord” (Romans 12:1). But the problem is, we all too easily become more attached to things. So, in love God sends us a test, like He did for Abraham- a test, not a temptation to sin, but a test, perhaps He removes something in our lives that we were beginning to treasure too much or something that we were in danger of treasuring more than the Lord Himself putting our salvation in jeapordy. When God removes whatever it is we are faced with a challenge, a test. We are faced to confront the issue of our hearts, much the way that Abraham was forced to confront his own heart. God already knew what was in Abraham’s heart, He already knows what’s in our hearts, but the trials and tests we face are opportunities where God opens our eyes to where our hearts really are or the direction where they are going. Have I begun value someone or something more than my God? Am I willing to lose anything and everything in my life should God in His wisdom and love demand it from me? What we value the most is what we are most unwilling to give up.

It could be a thing or item – my home, my car, my money, it could be a person – my spouse, my child, my friend, it could be something physical – my health, my body, my skills, it could be something totally different- my reputation, my pride, my self-sufficiency, my popularity. Any of those things – and many more – can easily become more important to me than my God. And when that happens we break the first and most important commandment. And it’s in tests and trials where God removes something from our lives and shows us just how attached we are to things or how reliant we’ve become on ourselves than on our God. And if we are so prone to value things over our God, to give up our devotion to God instead of things of this life, why in the world should He put any value on us? Why should God have any reason not to give us up to the fires of hell?

Abraham is standing over his son about to kill him, in his heart he’s already slayed his son in obedience to God, for he must value God the most and is unwilling to even let his love for his son crowd God and devotion to Him out of his heart. And then God intervenes, stops Abraham, and Abraham looks up and there – provided by God – is a ram and Abraham offers the ram in place of his son and Abraham calls that mountain “The Lord will provide.”

And it just so happens that it is this very same mountain on which the city of Jerusalem and the temple would later be built. It just so happens that just outside the walls of the city on this mountain God provided something else. A sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice. That which you value the most is that which you are most unwilling to give up. On this very mountain God provided His own Son who wasn’t spared but was provided as the sacrifice for sins once and for all. Why? Because what God values the most and what God is most unwilling to give up… is…you. You and I deserved because of our sin to be given up by God, cast out of His presence forever for we are creatures who are so ready to give up on God for stuff, for things, for other people, yet in unimaginable love God gave up His own Son, so He wouldn’t have to give up on you and me!

And if you think about it, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? How will God not also see you through every trial and test? How will God not also comfort you with His never-ending, never-ceasing love no matter what you have in life or don’t have in life, no matter what you get or what you lose? In God you have it all. He has provided you with everything you need for eternal life in His Son and His sacrifice on the cross for you.

It was that sacrificial love of God that won Abraham’s heart and his devotion and it’s that same sacrificial, unconditional, never ending love of God that has won your heart and your devotion to value God most and be most unwilling to give Him up no matter what because on that mountain, on that cross God provided salvation…for you!  Amen.