November 11 2012 Sermon
For Christ has entered, not into holy places amade with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God bon our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as athe high priest enters bthe holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, ahe has appeared bonce for all cat the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as ait is appointed for man to die once, and bafter that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once ato bear the sins of bmany, will appear ca second time, dnot to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly ewaiting for him.
It is Yom Kippur. The high priest has been awake all night in prayer and reciting psalms. He has been bathed to wash off his sin and now has taken off the ornate and highly decorated garments of the priest and put on a pure white, linen tunic. The entire congregation of Israel is gathered and as the priest speaks the holy name of God ten times they fall on their faces, for it is the only time the holy name of God is pronounced. Two goats are brought and the priest sacrifices only one of them. The people watch in silence as the high priest walks to the altar, gathers the animal’s blood in a basin, fills a gold pan with coals, gathers some incense, and approaches the inner sanctuary. This is the only time of year that any man is permitted to enter the Holy of Holies for there he is in the very presence of God, the dwelling place of God on earth among his people. Every breath was held as he offered incense and prayers and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat covering the Ark of the Testament. If all goes well, he will emerge unharmed and the people will know their sins had been atoned for. Just in case, though, a rope is tied around the High Priest’s ankle to drag him out if he drops dead.
When the high priest emerges from the holy of holies, he places his hands on the head of the other goat that was not sacrificed. He confesses all the sins of the people over the goat and then releases the goat bearing the sins of the people out into the wilderness and thus removes their sins as far as the east is from the west.
They were at Mt. Sinai in the wilderness. The tabernacle, the holy of holies, the ark of the covenant were all built according to the plans God had given Moses. The Ark of the Covenant was set in the holy-of-holies behind the curtain that separated it from the people, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle so that not even Moses could enter in. Moses had constructed the tabernacle for a set of plans that God had give him, perhaps somewhat like an architect’s drawings of a house, and the tabernacle, the offerings, the priestly garments, the sacrifices, were all made according to the plans. All of these were copies, made with human hands, of the reality which is in heaven. They were visible, material copies of the spiritual realities in heaven.
And what is the heavenly reality? Christ crucified! Our text from Hebrews this morning explains: “it was Christ who entered, not into the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” The heavenly reality reflected in these copies—the priests, the sanctuary, the sacrifices—is none other than Jesus himself, his incarnation, his life, his suffering and death on the cross, his resurrection and ascension into heaven. The holy-of-holies in the tabernacle which Moses made was the physical dwelling place of God, it was an earthly copy of heaven. The high priest who offered the sacrifices was a copy of Jesus who offered the sacrifice on the cross. The animals and lambs offered for sins were copies of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The blood sprinkled on the altar was a representation of the blood of God spilled out on the altar of the cross. The sins that were placed on the goat and sent out into the wilderness were your and my sins borne by Jesus who removed them from us as far as the East is from the West.
Yes, Jesus is the reality. Jesus is the great high priest who entered the holy of holies. However, Jesus didn’t have to enter each year, over and over. When Jesus did it, it happened for real. All sins were atoned for once and for all. It is done! Finished!
Jesus is not only the high priest who offered the sacrifice, he is the sacrifice. He is the Lamb of God that takes away all sin from the world. It was not the blood of lambs and goats he sprinkled on the altar, it was his own blood he poured out on the cross and sprinkles on all who believe in him. The holy, precious blood of God himself is the blood that washes you clean from all sin. Unlike the high priest, Jesus did not have to offer a sacrifice for himself and his house, because he was perfect and holy; clean from all sin and corruption.
He didn’t place his hands on the head of a goat and confess his sins over it so the goat could bear his sin and take it away, rather our sin was placed on his head so that he could carry it out into the wilderness. And as it is appointed for a man once to die and after that the judgment, so Christ died bearing our sins and came under judgment for our sin and was condemned to hell in our place. But once he did it, it was done and over with. The price of our sin has been paid. Our salvation has been won. Our sins have been atoned for. Because he faced judgment on account of our sins, we will not be judged for sin.
And rising the third day from the dead, he did not enter the holy of holies built with human hands, but entered into heaven to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. He is continually before the face of God pleading for us, praying for us, defending us. No one can bring any charge against God’s elect. No one can condemn you, for it is Christ Jesus who died, more than that, was raised and who is at the right hand of God who is indeed interceding for us. So nothing shall separate us from the love of God? Not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. Because Jesus died and rose again and is standing in the true holy of holies on our behalf, we are more than conquerors. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is the confidence and faith we live by in our risen Savior. This is our assurance and joy as we eagerly wait for him to come a second time. This hope defines our lives. It is what makes it possible to get out of bed each morning. It is what gives a purpose and meaning to life here in the midst of our struggles, our pains, our trials. It is this assurance that gives us courage to live so we can open our hearts to others.
Like the widow in our gospel reading. She didn’t have anything to give to the Lord but a few pennies. But she knew that she could not buy God’s favor with her money or great offerings as the rich people tried to do. She knew she had nothing to give God as far as works, her own goodness, accomplishments, success. She had only faith to trust that her Lord and Savior would take care of her. As did the widow who took care of Elijah. She had nothing in her jar, but faith that the Lord would fill it. So out of faith she fed and opened her home for Elijah to live in. Both of these widows in the midst of their poverty trusted him. In their emptiness they had in order to give to others. In their weakness they were strong because of their trust in the Savior.
But all too often our faith is not that strong. We do try to buy God’s favor not only with our offerings, but with our works. We don’t trust him when we are down to the last penny. We despair because of our weak faith. We would be hard pressed to give our last dime to God, because we don’t have that much faith. We don’t love God enough. We don’t love him with all our heart. We don’t fear, love and trust him above all things. I know I don’t, and I’m sure you don’t either. I don’t trust him enough, but these widows both far exceed my level of faith and love for God.
But he has borne our sin and put it away. Even the sin of not loving him with our entire heart. Even the sin of not trusting him enough to give him our last dime. So when he comes the second time, he will not come to deal with our sin. It has already been dealt with. It is done and gone. He will come to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. For those who have faith and trust in him who desire and yearn to be with him. He will come to see who has faith and to take us with him forever. It is for this we look forward with eager expectation. His coming for us is the purpose of our life, the reason we live.
So we, simply trust in the Lord who is before the throne of God day and night. We are assured because he has taken away our sin and will take care of us so we have the confidence to reach out to our neighbor and care for him. We can support the work of the church, the work of mercy and compassion, evangelism, mission all for the sake of Christ. Because he bore our sins and took them away out into the wilderness. He put away all sin by sacrificing himself on the cross. He offered himself for our sins, and we have this hope in us that someday he will come again, a second time. We face each day by waiting for him to come and in the joy of being reunited with him we live out our days in service to God and to our fellow man.