Sunday, January 13, 2013

Higher Things Conference, Carlisle, Iowa (Hebrews 9:1-14)

“[Jesus] entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and bulls, but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the text read a few moments ago from the ninth chapter the letter to the Hebrews. Dear friends in Christ, the tabernacle, and the temple that followed on its pattern, was an assault on the senses. The sights, the sounds, the smells, were overpowering; the nearest parallel we have in western Iowa is a packing plant. Your ears were greeted with the bleating, the bellowing, the cries of animals doomed to die; the chants, the prayers of priests rising above this tumult. You could smell the sweet scent of incense and burning candles, but more overpowering is the smell of death: the smell of slaughter, the stench of burning flesh. And what you saw was blood. Blood everywhere, cast on the altar, sprinkled on the people, flowing in rivers, a clear and certain testimony that what the tabernacle was about was death, the death of innocent animals to cleanse and purify God’s chosen people.

Sin is serious business; if nothing else, the sounds, the smells, the sights of the tabernacle prove that God and His people take sin seriously. Our text tells us that the High Priest entered the Most Holy Place only once a year, and never without taking blood with Him. Without blood, the High Priest was worthless; without blood, the tabernacle had little use. Don’t trust the un-bloody teachings found in the world and even in the Church; don’t trust an un-bloody Gospel! A Gospel without blood doesn’t take our sin nearly seriously enough; a Gospel without blood doesn’t comprehend the depth of our corruption. 

Don’t trust a Gospel that explains away sin, that tells you it isn’t a big deal, that ‘rules are made to be broken,’ ‘everyone else is doing it,’ or ‘you’re making too much of a little thing.’ It’s just your words, just your body, just your neighbor’s reputation. Don’t trust a Gospel that says ‘you can just ask for forgiveness later,’ that claims God will be ok with it—He’s a God of love, right? Don’t trust a Gospel that claims God’s laws were just for people back then, not really for us modern people, that thinks God is moving us in a new direction, a more ‘tolerant’ direction. A Gospel that explains away or ignores sin, that tosses out God’s Law, is no Gospel at all.

A Gospel that acknowledges sin, but points you to anything other than blood is little better; such a Gospel still doesn’t understand the depth of your sin and corruption. Don’t trust a Gospel that calls for anything but blood. Don’t trust an un-bloody Gospel! Don’t trust a Gospel that tells you to live a ‘good life,’ to outweigh your sins with some good deeds. Don’t trust a Gospel that points you to your feelings, your emotions to know that you have found favor with God. Don’t trust a Gospel that tells you to ‘pray harder,’ ‘worship more sincerely,’ or ‘love God more.’ Don’t trust a Gospel that puts the ball in your court, that calls on you to do something yourself to take care of your sin.

If you say God doesn’t much care about His Laws or about sin, you are deceiving yourself, and you are calling Him a liar. If you claim that there is anything that you can do, no matter how good, no matter how pious, to remove that sin, then you have no idea how serious and how great your sin is. The tabernacle calls all those other Gospels lies; the blood that flows in rivers from the sacrifices offered there declares that sin is serious, dead serious, and the only answer is blood. 

There God taught His people, each and every day, with every drop of blood, that the only Gospel worth trusting was one covered with blood. Sin requires blood; the tabernacle was Israel’s living demonstration of that fundamental fact. Sin requires blood; but the blood of bulls and goats could never completely take away sin. The sacrifices offered by the priests day after day in the tabernacle pointed to the once-for-all sacrifice that was coming, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s own blood. Don’t trust an un-bloody Gospel—trust the Gospel that gives you Jesus’ blood. Trust the Gospel that covers your sin with His blood.

Jesus came as the greatest and final High Priest, and He came to enter into the tabernacle of heaven, the Most Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but by means of His own blood. The cross shows how seriously God takes sin. What you hear is the cries of a dying man, and what you see is blood, flowing from His thorn-encircled brow, from His scourged back, from His pierced hands and feet. Sin requires blood; the blood of the sinless Son of God, the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” Trust the Gospel that gives you Jesus’ blood as the once-for-all sacrifice, the only price, the only blood that could fully atone for sin. The cross shows how seriously God takes sin; the cross shows how seriously God takes our salvation, for He offered the only price that would suffice, His own Son.

Don’t trust an un-bloody Gospel—trust the Gospel that gives you Jesus’ blood, which opens the way into the Most Holy Place, which gives you access to God Himself. What the High Priest alone entered only once a year Christ entered once for all, to tear down the curtain, to open what had so long been closed, with the shedding of His own blood. “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” This blood reconciles us with our God, removing the dividing wall of hostility between Creator and creature. Trust the Gospel that gives you that blood, that proclaims nothing of yourself, and everything of Christ.

The tabernacle was all about blood; the blood of lambs, goats, and bulls, all offered for the purification of God’s chosen people. The Church is all about blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, poured out on Calvary’s cross to cover your sins. Don’t trust an un-bloody church; trust a church dripping in the blood of Christ, that proclaims to you Christ’s blood every Sunday. Trust the Church that gives you Jesus’ blood, even into your mouth, the same Body and Blood that was the price of your redemption. There you are forgiven, there your sin is covered, there the tabernacle finds its final fulfillment. The only Gospel that proclaims an end to sin is the true Gospel, the Gospel that proclaims Christ’s death and resurrection, for you, for your salvation, so that you will rise with Christ to live before Him forever. In the Name of Jesus, our perfect High Priest, whose blood secured our eternal redemption, Amen.

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