(from our midweek Lenten service)
I find it safe to assume that people crave objective certainty. Most want to deal with facts that are not distorted by personal feelings. Facts provide an undeniable truth to which you can respond appropriately.
For example, you’re rocking in your La-Z-Boy one night, watching the evening news, when all of a sudden your mind dredges up the high dollar amounts on some bills you just received. Now anxiety seizes you; you’re not sure if you have the money to pay those bills. When you’re confronted with a problem you can rely on one of two things: (1) your subjective feelings or (2) objective facts.
“Subjective” means that you attempt to find truth based on your feelings. So, you try to convince yourself that you have enough money to cover your expenses just by how you feel. But you’re still afraid. Your mind races, heart pumps, panic washes over you. Why? Because your emotions cannot definitively prove that you truly have money. You may feel rich (even though you are truly poor) or you may feel poor (even though you are truly rich). You cannot use your emotions to provide absolute certainty. Your feelings may be wrong; your feelings can change.
If you want to end that fear, then you must place your emotions on an objective reality. “Objective,” meaning that you deal with facts. If you panic over your financial situation, then get up out of your La-Z-Boy, walk over to your checkbook, flip it open, and look at the dollar amount. Then ask yourself: Is the dollar amount in my checkbook bigger than the amount on the bill? If so, then you do (indeed) have enough money to pay your bills. You do not need to be afraid.
So, when a problem confronts you, you can rely on either (1) your subjective feelings or (2) objective facts. That applies to just about anything in life. You may feel your friends hate you and live as though your feelings are true. Yet, when your friends say, “We love you!” you have a truth on which to rely. You may feel you got called into the office for punishment. Yet, when you hear, “Good job!” you can rest assured that life will be pleasant! When you deal with facts, you can react appropriately.
That is always important to remember. When it comes to the matter of how you stand before God, there remains the ever-constant temptation to rely on subjective feelings. Does God really forgive every sin because of what Jesus has done?
God does not hand you an answer that relies on your ever-changing feelings. No, he uses one unchangeable, undeniable event in order to fill you with a certain and lasting hope. Jesus Christ is Our Self-Sacrificing High Priest! He abolishes the need for ongoing sacrifices. He establishes his once-for-all sacrifice.
That truth can never be repeated enough. Remember, the first readers of this letter are Jewish Christians. Friends, family, and co-workers who follow Christ-less teachings are pressuring them to stop following Jesus.
So, the writer of Hebrews repeatedly stresses: Jesus Christ is Superior. Jesus Christ is superior to any other high priest because Jesus is the Son of God (Hebrews 1:1-3). Jesus Christ is superior to any other high priest because Jesus is the source of eternal life (5:7-9). Jesus Christ is superior to any other high priest because he withstands temptation and removes your (and my) stumbling into sin (4:14-16). There is no doubt that Jesus is the powerful, perfect Son of God.
But what about his work? Is Jesus really enough to forgive sin and to remove any fear that you would spend eternity in hell?
If you are like me, you automatically blurt out: “Yes! Jesus is enough!” Yet, if you are like me, you also realize those words are easy to say, but difficult to believe. You see, when you do wrong, the natural reaction is to find peace inside of you.
You yell at your spouse and she starts crying. You feel absolutely devastated. How do you make that guilty-feeling go away? You do more good to outweigh the bad! You run out to the florist, buy a nice bouquet of a dozen long-stemmed roses, and give them to her. Yes, this gesture show your remorse for harsh words. Yet, there remains a part which hopes the buying of flowers will undo your harsh words.
Or, you are a jerk on the road or at the restaurant. People see the way you act. So, how do you repair your reputation? Compare yourself to others! If someone thinks you’re mean, then they should see how your next-door neighbor acts. You go to church; he doesn’t. You give money to charity; he gambles his money away. You volunteer; he thinks volunteering is a waste of time. Your friends like you, which more than what others can say about him. Even when you do wrong, you fight to look better, as though somehow guilt will no longer exist just because you found another guilty person.
Or, you simply try to find comfort in how you live now. You’re controlling your drinking better. You made mistakes in your first marriage, but you have now corrected them. You once worried all the time about money, about your kids, about all sorts of things, but now you don’t worry so much. Look at all the changes you have made! God must appreciate your efforts in improving your morality!
What you are really doing is offering a sacrifice of your works to God. God looks at your efforts and says: “Not enough.” Not enough because God demands no sin.
That why our reading says: Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them. Which sounds odd. The Old Testament is chocked full of sacrifices. Burnt offerings. Sin offerings. Guilt Offerings. Fellowship offerings. Grain offerings. A priest offers a sacrifice each morning and each evening (Numbers 28:3-8). There are sacrifices for the once-a-year Passover. In fact, some estimate that over public 1,200 sacrifices were offered each year— about four each day! (That number does not include sacrifices made by individuals for single-family units.)
God commanded sacrifice. So, how could God not desire or be pleased with them? The answer is found in the next verse: Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’ ” God makes it clear: the Old Testament sacrifices did not remove sin. The life of an animal was not the price needed to remove your guilt, nor was it the price God wanted. God wants complete obedience to his commands. All those Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to the One who would offer such a sacrifice on your behalf.
When Christ came into the world, he said[…] I have come to do your will, O God. The writer of Hebrews points you to Jesus’ humanity. Remember, he is like you (and me), tempted in every way. Yet, the thoughts flowing through his mind are never tainted with hate, resentment, or revenge. His words never tear down reputations, criticize, or deceive. His actions do not hurt or bow down to another object of love. Jesus Christ remains the blameless Lamb of God— carrying the perfect payment God seeks.
You know Jesus is perfectly obedient. God himself says: “This is my beloved Son, with him I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Pilate finds no charge against him (Luke 23:14). The high priests cannot agree on charges (Matthew 26:59-60). Even a dying criminal admits: “He has done nothing wrong” (Luke 23:41). Jesus is without blemish or defect. Like the lambs of old, the Lamb of God loses his life to settle the debt you (and I) owe God. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Those Jewish Christians could be certain that Jesus Christ is their superior High Priest! Jesus offered what God wanted: perfect obedience. Since Jesus has completed that payment, there remains no more need for animal sacrifices. So, [Christ] sets aside the first and he establish[es] the second. Jesus offers his life (1) as the sacrifice God wanted and (2) as they only sacrifice you will ever need.
You can be completely certain about that. The Jewish high priests had to keep offering sacrifices because they were never enough to pay for sin. Their job never ended. If you try to find peace in your own actions, you will never stop searching. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. In raising him from the dead, God proves that Jesus’ life is enough. He brings Jesus into heaven, demonstrating that Jesus needs to offer nothing more to save you.
That means, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Did you catch that? You have been made holy! Jesus has cleansed you from every fault and all shame. God sees you without shame, without guilt, without blemish. God sees you as perfect. God sees you as holy.
Yes, I know, you are not perfect. Neither am I. So, how can God call you (and me) “holy?” Better yet, how can you be sure that you are “holy?” Do not look for the answer in yourself. If you stare at your own morality, you will never find holiness. You are holy because of the work of Jesus. Look at yourself with the life of Jesus draped on you and be confident that you stand forgiven.
When the devil comes around again and starts poking at you, when he starts stirring up past shame, when he reminds you of a high-school event or that one time you launched the most hurtful words to your friend, do not look to yourself to find relief. Look to Jesus. Say: “He died for the purpose of removing my shame, my guilt, my wrong. This is true because God himself says so. This applies to me because God himself says so— and God cannot lie.”
That is an objective fact. Thank God that he does not place your status on your ever-changing feelings. Rather, God uses the unchangeable, undeniable sacrifice of his Son to fill you with a certain and lasting hope. Jesus Christ is Our Self-Sacrificing High Priest! He abolishes the need for ongoing sacrifices. He establishes his once-for-all sacrifice.