(from our midweek Lenten service)
I have a confession to make: sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I stand in the hardware store and I know I need screws, but nails are so much cheaper. So, I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws (and even though I save a few bucks, nails do not hold my project together). A fly buzzes around the window screen in my upstairs computer room. It annoys me. I really should run downstairs, go into the kitchen and grab the flyswatter, but I’m already holding a pencil. And I don’t want to run downstairs. So, I try to use my pencil and poke a dancing fly to death. (Here’s the disclaimer: It doesn’t work.)
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of solving my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
Life presents a very uncomfortable reality: You are mortal. It means that one day you will stand before God, the Judge of all. What can you rely on to solve this matter? Be sure, many have created solutions to solve their accountability problem before God, but there has always remained just one solution. That solution is found in Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve us and qualified to purify us.
This Lenten season we will study the book of Hebrews. You will quickly notice that it connects the Old Testament sacrifices and worship rituals to the work of Jesus Christ; it really ties the Old Testament to the New Testament.
The title “Hebrews” does not mean the book was written in the Hebrew language. Rather, “Hebrews” most likely identifies the ethnicity of its recipients; “Hebrews” are Jews. These are not Jews who cling to the teachings of Judaism and are still looking forward to the coming Jesus. These are ethnic Jews who are Christians; they follow Christ.
But life is growing difficult for them. After all, they are Jews. Many who share their flesh and blood [their ethnicity] practice Judaism. That means mom and dad still worship in the synagogue and read only the Torah (first five-books of the Bible). Their neighbors elevate the teachings of Moses and Elijah the prophet, treasuring these words more than the words of Jesus. Friends and co-workers do not share the view that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Instead, they’re still looking for the coming Messiah.
These Jewish Christians stand at odds with their family members. It’s difficult to hold onto Christian beliefs when the majority do not.
To further complicate matters, these Jews live in the Roman Empire during a time when Christianity is not embraced. The Roman Emperors are ramping up persecutions against Christians. Some lose their property because they worship Jesus. Others get arrested and still others are staring down the sword. (Imagine losing your house, your land, your retirement savings because someone found out you were here this one day.)
There’s immense pressure to give up on Christianity and to return to Christ-less beliefs. Life would feel so much easier for these Jewish Christians if they just cut their connection to Jesus and returned to the popular, tolerated religion of Judaism. That’s the solution to make life feel better.
That’s the solution so many still embrace today. “Sin” is not a popular subject. It does not make you happy to face the reality that you (and I) are nothing but dust and ashes; you (and I) are mortal. It does not feel good to admit that you (and I) are truly the only one at fault for breaking God’s commandments. It does not fill you with joy that you (and I) are accountable for indecency going through your head, the hurt you inflict on others, and the evil which festers in your heart. Since this is an uncomfortable reality, the natural, manmade solution is to find another belief, another teaching that will make you feel happy. Leave Jesus and find a new, popular, tolerated belief.
It’s easy to do, right? And maybe you realize it occurs in your life a little more frequently than you care to admit. Downplay the seriousness of sin. “It’s alright if I have hold little feelings for someone other than my spouse. It’s natural… It’s acceptable that babies come before marriage. Everyone does it. God cannot possibly care.” Or you compare yourself to others: “God cannot be angry that I lose my temper. My neighbor abuses his spouse. He’s so much worse than me!” Or you attempt to justify and defend your actions by blaming others: “I wouldn’t be an irritated parent if my kids behaved better… I would be friendlier if she didn’t backstab me… I could listen to my President if he didn’t (fill in the blank) .”
Each time you (and I) attempt to justify sin, you declare that you have done nothing wrong. Your heart dares to stand before God and tell him that he and his Commandments are wrong. That you, and your behavior, are acceptable.
If you wish to walk down this road, then be sure: you are using the wrong product for the problem. Ignoring sin does not solve your mortality. Considering disobedience as something of little significance does not change the fact God hates sin and will punish it. You (and I) are not qualified to change our status before God and live.
So, the book of Hebrews emphasizes one truth, a truth that is still true today: Jesus Christ is Superior.
For those Jewish Christians, the pressure to abandon the Christian faith is intense. They could leave— and who could blame them? They have family tensions, the government wants to kill them, their emotions are worn down. Yet, if they return to Judaism, they would leave Jesus, the only solution behind.
So, the author of Hebrews contrasts the Old Testaments to Jesus. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways. As great as Elijah is or Isaiah or Jeremiah or Moses, they did not have the complete picture of (1) who Jesus is, (2) what he would do, and (3) the peace he brings. Each prophet held just one piece of the puzzle. Sometimes on a television show, six different characters hold six different clues to a riddle. When they come together, put their clues together, they discover the complete answer.
You see, each prophecy built on another. God promises his Son would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15). A prophet said Jesus would come from King David (2 Samuel 7:14). Another said he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). Another said he would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:4-7). Another said he would be crushed and broken for our sin (Isaiah 53). Still another said he would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:10-11).
That’s why our writer says: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, but today you have something better: in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. You have the privilege of piecing all these prophecies together and clearly seeing: Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest. Jesus is the One God promised to send. Since Jesus is God-approved, it means he is qualified to serve our spiritual needs; he is the only solution to our problem of sin. Since Jesus Christ is Our Great High Priest he is qualified to purify us.
You see, sin presents the serious problem of death. God demands a pure heart, a pure mind, and a pure soul— and Jesus has it all. So, Jesus carries your (and my) attempts to downplay the seriousness of sin. He gathers them up, carries them to Calvary, and destroys them one-by-one. For blaming others for my guilt, Jesus is beaten. For my excuses for my ill-temper, Jesus bleeds. For me daring to think that God is overbearing and that God’s commands are wrong, Jesus endures God’s wrath, anger, and abandonment.
Jesus, Our Great High Priest uses his innocent blood to purify us from all sin. “Purify,” that is, he removes the inky scarlet blot from our lives and cleanses us inside and out. Sin is gone once-for-all.
To emphasize the thoroughness of his work, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Jesus has completed his work to remove sin; there’s no more work to be done. That’s why he can say: In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am (John 14:2-3). Since Jesus has removed guilt, since Jesus has fixed your (and my) mortality-problem, you can live with confidence that your stand forgiven, holy, blameless, innocent before God.
Sometimes I try to make do with the wrong product for a project. I try to save a few dollars by purchasing nails when I really should be buying screws. I’ve tried to poke a dancing fly to death. I push forward with the wrong solution in the hopes of fixing my problem, but it doesn’t work. What felt right in my mind was not the answer I needed. It’s the answer I thought I needed, but it still didn’t solve the problem.
The solution to our mortality is not to run away from this consequence. The solution is not to try and make sin look better than it really is. The solution is not to compare my morality with others. The only solution is to lay what you (and I) have done wrong at the feet of Jesus and watch him purify us from all sin. Jesus Christ Our Great High Priest! who is qualified to serve and qualified to purify us.