“Welcome Home”      Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25 November 15, 2009

A story from the Spanish-American War illustrates the spiritual lesson of today's text. Apparently, some transport ships with supplies for Gen. Shafter’s army found it impossible to drop anchor off the coast of Cuba.
As a result, they were compelled to steam slowly back and forth along the coast. This made it difficult to land the horses and mules, and it was finally decided upon to push them overboard and allow them to swim ashore.

Some of the animals turned instinctively to shore, but others started out to the open sea or swam in confused circles. There was no way for anyone on the ships to stop the tragic exodus, and disaster seemed unavoidable … until the clear call of an Army bugle rang out from shore.
Instinctively, the tiring beasts turned for the land. The bugler sounded his horn until his lips were blue, but he didn’t stop until every animal had made it safely to shore.

The bugler sounding his horn. That’s grace.
The mules’ dog-paddling like crazy for shore. That’s perseverance.

The bugler is like Wisdom crying out in Proverbs, or like Jesus calling, “Follow me.” The mules were swimming for their life, but their destination was made clear by the bugler.
Access Granted/Access Denied.
Think about some recent spy movie or drama you’ve seen lately. Probably the hero or antagonist has needed to gain access to a secure area, vault, bank, CIA headquarters or the like. He or she has then used some sort of access tool to get in — perhaps fingerprint- , retinal- , and voice- or face-recognition systems.
Or, you go to a hotel and receive a plastic card with encoded data that gives you access to your room. You go online, and you must identify yourself first with a specific User ID and then you must provide a password. Some sites also require additional information that only you know, such as the city in which you were married, or the year of your mother’s birth. Answer the question wrong, and you cannot proceed.
In Scripture, under the Old Covenant, you try to saunter into the Most Holy place, and unless you’re the high priest, and then, only once a year — you’re dead. Period. Access to God’s presence as represented by the Most Holy Place was restricted and generally denied. Under the New Covenant, all that has changed.
In today’s reading, we are challenged to compare the daily sacrifice performed in the Old Testament Temple ritual to the priesthood of the New Testament Christ. The writer is contrasting the work of a Jewish priest in verse 11 with the redemptive work of Christ in verse 12.
11And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, "he sat down at the right hand of God,"
Day after day, the rituals at the temple continue: One day a priest offers the sacrifices and then the next day, presumably, another priest repeats the same ritual. The author of Hebrews points out that this work is essentially futile, since such work is never finished.

Every priest stands when he offers sacrifices (v. 11). In the Sanctuary stood the altar of incense, the table, the ark -- but no chair. God was always served by standing priests. They stood at the earthly throne, or footstool of God, as a mark of respect. Moreover, their standing signifies their unfinished task.  
On the other hand, the author tells us, Christ came and sat down. He had finished his work, which unlike the Temple priests, was redemptive work. He removed sin and broke the power of sin. Jesus was therefore entitled to take the seat of honor by God the Father. His work was finished (cf. John 19:28-30), and now he waits at the side of God.

For the author and his audience, this means they now can approach the inner sanctum of the Holy Place of God because the way has been opened through Jesus’ body and blood. Christ’s blood has sprinkled and cleansed their bodies like the previous sacrifices (9:12), but in addition to this; his sacrifice has also purified their hearts and consciences. Their confidence rests not only on “the blood of Jesus,” but also on the fact that the sanctuary Jesus entered was not an earthly tabernacle.
In contrast to any humanly constructed tabernacle, the sanctuary that Jesus entered and thus the one that believers can approach with boldness is the heavenly one (cf. 8:1-5a; 9:1, 11-12, 24).
Furthermore, just as an earthly sanctuary has a curtain to mark the boundary between the profane and the holy, the heavenly sanctuary has a curtain as well. This curtain, however, is not lifeless fabric; rather, it is “his flesh” that he offered (10:20) — human flesh like our own that he shared “so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (2:14).
On the basis of Jesus’ single offering of his own body and his faithful service as a high priest, the Hebrew writer thus assures his readers that both he and they have not an ordinary high priest, but “a great high priest over the house of God” (10:21). In short, Jesus is both the sacrifice and the high priest.
Grace in forgiveness.
Our passage reminds us of our theology of forgiveness. In the Old Testament, God’s people would bring animals to the tabernacle to be sacrificed for their forgiveness. The shed blood of the animal covered over the sins of the people, symbolic that its death in sacrifice took away the death penalty that their sins deserved. The ritual was repeated and repeated as each new sin required a new sacrifice (v. 12).

But the sacrifice of Jesus was different. It was final. It would never need to be repeated. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (v.14).

Those who follow Jesus are already perfected. Forever.  For all time.  Even though we have sinned. Even though we will sin again — today. The sacrifice of Jesus is final and perfect, making us finally perfect in heaven and perfectly forgiven before we arrive.

The writer of Hebrews leaves us with three exhortations we can take with us. First, we ought to approach God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (10:22a). This is possible because we now have “hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience,” which only brings self-condemnation, and “bodies washed with pure water” (10:22b).
In short, mind and body, heart and flesh have been properly prepared to enter the heavenly sanctuary, since the profane has been and is being transformed into the holy.

Second, we are encouraged to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” This is possible because Jesus is a faithful and merciful high priest; in addition, the One who both made and fulfilled his promises to Jesus (e.g., “You are my Son; today I have begotten you” [1:5; 5:5] and “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek” [1:13; 5:6]) is also faithful to us (10:23; cf. 2:17-18; 4:14-15).

Third, we are to “consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds” (10:24). This provocation is not adversarial, but rather occurs as we meet together for the purpose of “encouraging one another” and we encourage one another so that we do not give up as we “see the Day approaching” (10:25).

We are free to enter throne room, the inner sanctum, the holy place. We are welcome in God’s house. God has opened the doors of his house to us—“. . . come on in, kids; the tea is hot and the biscuits are buttered.” I have prepared a table for you—you are welcome here.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
  June 2021  
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