(from our midweek Lenten service)
Jesus needs to work on motivational speaking. Now, he does not appear to have much difficulty gaining disciples. He finds Peter and Andrew, James and John in their fishing boats, and simply says: “Come, follow me,” and they follow him! (John 1:39-41) He travels throughout Galilee, preaching and teaching, and large crowds listen to him! (Matthew 4:23)
But then, he reveals what believers can expect from the world because they put his teachings to work in their lives:
You feel this pressure inside, almost like a tug-of-war raging inside of you. On the one hand, you feel this desire to follow Jesus without shame. You prepare to endure insults and name-calling and ridicule and any other unfavorable things that could come your way. After all, you do love Jesus; he has called you to faith. Still, as much as you love him, you wish your confidence could be a little stronger. You do not know if you would stand up in a hostile room and openly admit that your life reflects the teachings of Jesus. You are not so sure if you would confess your faith if it meant losing your life.
So, how can you possibly cling to your faith in the face of ridicule? Remember this: Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar He bore our disgrace so that We may offer sacrifices of praise.
These Hebrew [Jewish] Christians needed the same reminder. Remember, they face intense pressure to give up their Christian faith. 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 belief that Jesus is the Savior of the world. Instead, they’re still looking for the coming Messiah.
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. Still others stare down the sword. There’s immense pressure to give up on Christianity and to return to Christ-less beliefs.
Do you know that feeling? The United States government will not arrest you because you are here tonight. They will not confiscate your property. They will not beat you, imprison you, or kill you. Yet, your government has passed laws that contradict your Christian beliefs and politicians may pressure you to change your beliefs to fit their wants.
You no longer can expect to call same-sex marriage “wrong,” without hearing insults flung back at you. Pro-choicers will accuse you of standing against healthcare if you label abortion as “murder.” Un-Christian ideas may not only be introduced into schools, but forced upon children to memorize. You know such worldly teachings are wrong— but when actually confronted with the reality to stand up against it, you may opt to tolerate un-Christian ideas so that you do not face trouble (or punishment).
Or, following Jesus can put you at odds with those nearest to you. You explain to your friend: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16).Yet, she argues that all people will be saved— regardless of what people believe or if they believe. She even calls you “narrow-minded” and “elitist” for saying such things.
God’s Word is in your heart, and so you remind your [grand]child to honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Yet, your [grand]child rejects you. He calls the Bible “outdated.” She points to her friends with the excuses: “Well, no one gets married anymore.” “We’re just trying things out.” “Yes, we have a child together (and are legally bound to that child for 18-years), but we just don’t want to commit quite yet.”
You tell the grocery-store clerk that you go to church— and she just stares at you as if something is wrong with you. And you feel ashamed. People will treat you differently because of your connection to Jesus. Family may hate you because God’s Word exposes their behavior as “wrong.” You may face prosecution, jail time, or death— because you obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
It is difficult to live this way because it means you will not always feel happy. You may lose friends. You may lose popularity. You may lose your life.
Do you know how to make all the shame go away? Ignore Jesus’ teachings. Change Jesus’ teachings. Ask the world what you should believe. And you will be happy— at least, for a while. You will have success, fame, and popularity on earth, but one day life will reach its end. Then you will stand before a perfect Judge and he will see that you loved this world more than you loved obeying him.
We need encouragement to persevere in our life of faith, just like these Jewish Christians did. So, the writer of Hebrews reminds you: We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. (The tabernacle is temporary place of worship before the temple is built). In the Old Testament the High Priest carrie[d] the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering… Life is found in the blood; without blood you cannot live (Leviticus 17:11). Once a year the high priest slaughtered, not a sinner, but a goat. He sprinkled the blood on the Ark of the Covenant, handing over a life as payment for the lives of people (see Leviticus 16). Then the bodies are burned outside the camp, symbolizing the removal of sin.
Yet, this great Day of Atonement pointed Old Testament worshippers to the work of Jesus Christ. We have a new altar— and this altar is a cross.
On the altar of the cross, Jesus also suffered… Think about that! Jesus also suffered— for what? He has done nothing wrong! Instead, the Jewish nation to whom a Savior is promised, rejects their Savior. Religious leaders call the teachings of Jesus, “Wrong.” They arrest the Son of God, put him on trial, and falsely accuse [God!] of evil. The disciples are so ashamed of him they flee. Even a dying thief scoffs at him! Then, the government, established by God himself, abuse innocent life. Whips rip his back open. Roman soldiers nail Jesus to a cross and then taunt him: “Come down if you are the Son of God!”
Do you realize Jesus could have avoided the cross? The moment he sees Judas the betrayer coming, he could have ran away. He could have given the answers the high priests expected. He could have called down legions upon legions of angels to fight for his freedom. Yet, if Jesus abandoned the cross, then how would you be saved?
So, Jesus, our perfect sacrifice, also suffered outside the city gate. He carried our sins on his back. Our feelings of embarrassment for following him. Our desire to tolerate Christ-less beliefs. Our pursuit for worldly pleasure. Our thoughts of quitting our faith. He carries them outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.
That is what you are now. Holy. Innocent. Without fault or guilt. Forgiven. Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar. He bore our disgrace so that We may offer sacrifices of praise.
As you look at the cross of Jesus, you are confronted with this inescapable truth: (1) Cling to Jesus, expect the world to ridicule and insult you, endure some trouble in this life, but gain heaven. Or, (2) Ignore Jesus’ teachings, condone the world’s god-less ways, feel content that you blend into a Christ-less society, but spend eternity in hell.
You see, Jesus endures disgrace, but gloriously rises above disgrace forever and ever! He has made the same promise to you. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. You will stand out in this world because you put Jesus first in your life. But you will stand out in this world because you love Jesus— the One who gives you eternal life.
Faith focuses you attention on what you are living for. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
So, what more is there for a Christian to have? You already have it all! You have heaven! So, what value does money have? You spend it today, but it does not follow you into heaven! What value does popularity have? It’s here today for jobs, relationships, and friendships, but popularity leaves when you leave this earth. What value is health? We preserve it as we remain stewards of God’s gift of bodies, but we will have perfect health in heaven! You realize there is nothing more valuable, nothing more important than the perfect life given for you on the cross. Everything else in this world pales in comparison. There is nothing more to gain. We already have it all! So, you are free to give all!
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. You give God sacrifices of praise. You already do that! You sing songs which retell God’s promises and hymns which express your confidence that God will keep his promises. You may not sing, but you openly give God credit. You confess to the world around you, “Thank God!” “I prayed to God!” “God is good!” You give God credit for what his power in your life. The words out of your mouth leads others to respect God, or at least notice what God has done. You offer sacrifices of praise.
Following Jesus in faith sounds daunting— at first. Persecution? Hatred? Family rejecting and opposing your beliefs? Yes, all those things may happen, and they may hurt. Yet, you are following Jesus by the way of the cross. Those little pains you feel, remind you to lift up your eyes and remember why you suffer: because Jesus suffered for you.
Jesus suffered to set you free from sins. You believe this. You hold it dear in your heart. You make sure nothing rips it out of your life. Yes, when the cross presses into you, lift your eyes up to Jesus, and gladly follow him because you are traveling to your enduring city and your Almighty God.
So, how can you possibly cling to your faith in the face of ridicule? Remember this: Jesus Our Great High Priest Serves at a Great Altar He bore our disgrace. We offer sacrifices of praise.