As an Ordinand studying at Cranmer Hall, I have various placements. My first is a term time placement until Easter, based at All Saint’s Stranton in Hartlepool. This sermon was part of a series on Hebrews and was preached at the 8:30am BCP Communion service on Sunday 30th October 2016
Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing in your sight. Amen.
Today we continue our series on Hebrews. This week and last week our passages from Hebrews are both focusing on comparisons. Nick spoke to us about Jesus acting as a high priest, and he explained to us that Jesus was not another high priest like Aaron or any of the Levites, but he was the same kind of priest as Melchizidek – that is, he was not a priest because he fulfilled all the rules and regulations but because of the power of an indestructible life. Jesus, being completely God and completely human was able to not just be a better priest, but the best priest imaginable. He has a permanent priesthood; he lives forever, praying for us day by day.
Nick also told us that because Jesus is the perfect high priest, instead of doing sacrifices every day, and every year, Jesus’ sacrifice of himself once and for all was enough. And it is this sacrifice that our passage of Hebrews today is talking about.
Just as Jesus is the best high priest, he is also the best sacrifice.
Hebrews makes this clear by comparing the sacrifices required by the law with the sacrifice Jesus made for us.
In the Old Testament the relationship between God and his people was shaped by the promises they made to one another, called a covenant. Through Moses, God gave Israel the Law, a series of promises in which God promised to be their God and in return they were to be holy just as God is holy. However, the pursuit of holiness is often a difficult one. There are times when we are not good enough, when we fail to meet the standard that is required. Sometimes this is accidental. We’re tired or frustrated and we mess up. Other times we may decide that actually we know that something isn’t a good idea but blow it – let’s do it anyway, just this once. Fortunately sinning wasn’t the end of the world. God knew that people are imperfect and so he built into the promises ways that people can make things better; a mechanism by which they could apologise sincerely and be genuinely forgiven.
The way this was done was through sacrifices.
Offering up a valuable animal was a sign of repentance and sorrow. The idea was not to just pay a £5 fine, but rather to give up something which really mattered. It’s a common mistake to view the sacrifices in the Old Testament Laws as being simply a spiritual payment, or expense. As if one sin cost a dove but another one cost a bull. In Deuteronomy chapter 30 Moses talks about the importance of the people taking these promises to God into their hearts: “love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” He goes on to say, “See, I have set before you today life and death.. and I implore you – choose life!”
Indeed, life is at the very heart of the promises between God and his people.
The sacrifices of animals were supposed to be symbolic of the sacrifice of a broken heart, as David says in psalm 51, restoring the people back to holiness and having been restored back to holiness they would live life to the full. However, these sacrifices were not permanent. After they had been made and the people restored to holiness, the people would still be just as likely to sin and break the covenant. Some would repeat the sacrifices as often as they were required to. But others wouldn’t make as much of an effort as they should.
The prophet Malachi wrote about people who got lazy with their sacrifices. Instead of offering valuable animals as a sign of sorrow, they would offer the weakest or diseased animals. These did not please God. Hebrews says that when Christ came into the world he said “sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them.”
Then he said, “here I am, I have come to do your will.” The author of the letter to the Hebrews says that by saying this, Christ set aside the old sacrifices and established a new one.
“Here I am, I have come to do your Will”.
Does this remind you of another part in scripture?
It reminds me of when Jesus says, “Not my will but yours be done” in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is there that Jesus our High Priest chooses obedience to God, obedience even to death on a cross. In doing so, Jesus offers himself as a perfect sacrifice.
Just as Nick explained last week that because Jesus is both God and Human, he was able to act as the best high priest, because Jesus is both God and human he is able to be a perfect sacrifice.
However he is more than just a sacrifice.
Dying on the cross, Jesus offers himself as the ultimate expression of sorrow and guilt for the sins which we have done, the sins we do and the sins we will still commit.
Being resurrected from the grave and coming back to life forever, Jesus is God’s promise of forgiveness and eternal friendship.
In the Old Testament, the promises between God and his people required repeated sacrifices.
In the New Testament the promise between God and humanity IS Jesus.
By his obedience to God’s will, Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Hebrews goes on to say, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties, again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest, Jesus, had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
In Jesus we have a better sacrifice than what was before and we have a living promise of forgiveness from God.
There’s something very interesting, and I think encouraging, about this.
“We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once and for all.”
This sacrifice and promise of forgiveness and life is a promise which is made to US.
We have been made holy.
We have been forgiven.
Believe that Jesus died for your sins and that he rose again to give you life and it shall be yours. You shall be forgiven.
That’s great, Sam, but you said that in the Old Testament when they sinned again they had to do a sacrifice again? What if I mess up again tomorrow?
Well this promise was true yesterday, is true today and will be true tomorrow until the end of forever.
” When Jesus had offered the one for all sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Jesus is alive and is right now seated at the right hand of God the Father, praying and interceding for each of you today because of the Love that he has for you.
More than this, he knows our hearts. He knows that we’re not perfect today and that we will sin again tomorrow.
That’s why Hebrews says, “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Here we have two things.
If you believe in Jesus as your Lord and Saviour then you have been made perfect – forever!
However, although you have been made perfect forever – you are still being made Holy.
Jesus IS a promise of life and forgiveness and once you have accepted that promise then that promise will be kept.
We are flawed people and we are not the finished product. But God is making us holy. Day by day as we trust in him we will grow in faith and become better people.
We often hear people say, ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’ or ‘it doesn’t matter where you’re going but how you get there’. The wonderful thing for Christians is that God promises us that we will be with him, and that he will be with us. We have both a destination, and a journey.
Our passage from Hebrews ends with the Holy Spirit.
Hebrews says, “The Holy Spirit also testifies [to Jesus making us Holy]. First he says, ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds’.
The Holy Spirit is God’s presence with us in our lives. He lives in us. He sustains us, and he reminds us of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
The Spirit then adds, ” Their sins and lawless acts, I will remember no more’.
Two of the things the Holy Spirit does for us is remember, and forget.
The Spirit Remembers.
He helps us to remember Jesus. In a short while we will be taking communion together, an act of remembering and thanking Jesus for his death on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, and an act of remembering and thanking Jesus for his resurrection and his life which is a promise to us that we have been forgiven.
The Spirit Forgets.
The Spirit who helps us remember Jesus’ sacrifice forgets our sins.
He forgets our childish behaviour growing up.
He forgets the angry words and the insults.
He forgets the betrayals and the lies.
He forgets the stealing and the drunkenness.
He forgets the sins we’ve done, and he will forget the sins which we haven’t done yet because he remembers Christ sacrifice has made us perfect and that he is making us holy.
All our sins have been forgiven, there is no longer any need for another sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins because Jesus was the best sacrifice imaginable, and he IS the living promise that God loves us.