Sermon on Hebrews 10:19-25
St. Stephen, Beaver Dam, February 21, 2018
Salem, Lowell, February 28, 2018
St. John, Juneau, March 7, 2018
Good Shepherd, Beaver Dam, March 21, 2018
- When we build or remodel churches, one of the first things we think about is access. New churches are built on one level so there are no steps or barriers. Our older churches think of that, too. St. Stephen’s had a ramp and elevator added to make fewer barriers. We distribute communion at floor level now so that the steps are no longer a barrier or hindrance. In the Old Testament, it was different—and we have to remember that both the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple were built to God’s design. In the Tabernacle and Temple, you could see a plan that had limited access and There was an outer court called “the court of the Gentiles,” which meant that was as far as non-Jews could enter. Then there was a “court of the women,” which was as far as the women of Israel could enter. Then there was the “court of the Israelites,” which is where husbands and fathers as heads of their families would enter and Levites and priests would assist them in preparing their burnt offerings. Then there was the Temple building itself, which only the priests could enter. The back room was the Most Holy Place which contained the Ark of the Covenant. Enter that room, and you are entering the presence of God. The entrance of the Most Holy Place was covered with a curtain that was woven into itself so that it was about five inches thick. Only the High Priest was to enter the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement—a festival connected with the Jewish New Year. He only entered after the appropriate sacrifice had been made at the altar, and he brought the blood of the sacrifice with him and sprinkled the blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant.
- Why did God design his Temple with limited access and a room almost no one would enter? We would think that if you build a building as fancy as a Tabernacle or Temple, you would let people see it. But limited access was the whole point. Remember at the very beginning, God limited the access to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were driven out because they sinned against the one command God had given them. Isaiah said, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2).
- Think about that limited access and what it meant as you now hear our reading from Hebrews 10:19-25:
9 Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. 20 It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. 21 We also have a great priest over the house of God. 22 So let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful.
24 Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
- That first sentence should bring a sense of fear and awe. The whole point of the limited access was to be a constant reminder, “your sins have separated you from your God” (Isaiah 59:2), but now the writer of Hebrew says, “We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus.” Do you remember what happened to that five inch thick curtain in the Temple on Good Friday? It ripped from top to bottom. One scholar suggested that it was sixty feet high and five inches thick, so it must have sounded like thunder when it ripped. What message is God giving now? Not limited access, but an open door. “Come on in!”
- There is a second message here. Beyond open access, there is a message about who we are because of Christ. Who alone was supposed to enter the Most Holy Place? The High Priest. If you are entering the presence of God in the Most Holy Place, who must you be? It means you must be a priest, too. What the writer of Hebrews says confirms that. “Let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.” Priests were constantly washing because of the many sacrifices they were performing. There was even a large basin near the altar where they washed hands and feet before and after each sacrifice. The writer of Hebrews is comparing that to our Christian baptism that not only cleanses the outside but the inside. “Our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience.” That’s much like what Peter says, “Baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). With Jesus and with our baptism into his life, death and resurrection, every day is a Day of Atonement, and every Christian is a priest before God. Just as the High Priest did not enter alone, we do not enter alone either. The High Priest brought with him the blood of a bull, sacrificed on the altar. We enter God’s presence with the blood of Jesus, sacrificed on the cross. In baptism, his death covers us. The meaning of his death, taking away the sin of the world, covers us.
- There are some Christian denominations that call their pastors “priests,” but the truth is, every Christian is a priest. One job priests had was to pray for the people. As a Christian, you can pray at any time and any place. In our prayers and in our constant thoughts, we are always commending our bodies and souls and all things into the hands of our almighty God.
- A priest also had the other main duty of performing sacrifices for the people—but for us, that work of sacrifice has already been done. The writer of Hebrews is very clear, “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices on a daily basis, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. In fact, he sacrificed for sins once and for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27). No more sacrifices are needed because Jesus offered himself. So what sacrifices should we make? Certainly nothing can pay for sin because Jesus paid for sins already. The writer tells us about sacrifices of service and praise: “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day ” St. Paul wrote, “Whether you eat or drink, or do anything else, do everything to the gloryof God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Every-thing we do is our priestly duty to glorify God. Martin Luther once put it this way, “The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” (https://goo.gl/8vh8n9) What is your job? What is your station in life? Father, mother, husband, wife, son, daughter, teacher, student, boss, employee, farmer, plumber, driver, preacher, secretary—then do your best with the abilities God has given you. That is your calling. The work God has set in front of you is the good deeds God has prepared in advance for you to do. You don’t have to look for something special to “do for God.” Do your job. Wash the dishes. Vacuum a rug. Fix a window. Take out the garbage. Do your duty for your family. Those are God-pleasing works. They don’t earn heaven for you because Jesus already did that. Instead, by doing your best, you hallow God’s name, and do his will.
- Let’s look at that listing of our priestly duties once again: “Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25 Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day ” Our everyday work is sanctified service—our duties to our fellow Christians are also part of our priestly duties. Come together. Worship. It was never God’s intention that Christians should be like little islands, floating out in the vast ocean of the world. Everyone looking out for himself or herself. He wants us to have the habit of meeting together for the purpose of encouraging each other. The early Christians did that: “They continued to hold firmly to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread, and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42). When the church stops being about that: about the word of God and encouraging one another with it, then the church stops being the church. Then it becomes a club, and not a very good club. If everyone has the attitude, “Church should be all about me,” then it’s no longer about Christ, and it’s no longer about us as the body of Christ on earth. Peter wrote: “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the people who are God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
- We have access to God’s presence by the body of Christ—the new and living way—so let us approach God boldly with our prayers in every time of need and for others and their needs.