DON'T SETTLE FOR LESS
Dear Christian friends,
Lutheran churches follow a church calendar. The beginnings were in the second century. The Christian Church wanted to set aside Easter. Makes sense, don’t you think? “If Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are lost in our sins!” A dead Jesus is worthless. An alive Jesus changes everything. They set aside an annual celebration. Everything else filled in around Easter.
Let’s talk the season of Lent. The early Christians celebrated Lent by the time of the Council of Nicea was held in 325 AD. Nicea brought Christians from everywhere to combat the false teachings of Arius. Those who recorded this momentous event spoke about a forty day period preceding Easter to fast and repent.
As the Lenten season developed historically, it is interesting that the Sundays of Lent were separated from the forty days of fasting and repentance. The Sundays were not technically part of Lent. They were to remain “little Easters” like every Sunday service. Have you noticed that none of the readings on Sundays in Lent take us back to the events of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday? In other words the forty days of Lent don’t include Sunday.
Today’s sermon reading seems to be an exception. This is a reading for Lent. It emphasizes the blood of Jesus. While many are appalled by the emphasis on the blood payment for sin, the Writer urges us, “Don’t Settle for Less.” Rather 1) Seek the Savior who shed his blood as the only Way to heaven; 2) Seek the only payment God accepted payment for sin – the blood of Jesus; 3) Seek the eternal, not the temporary, all gained by the blood of Jesus.
The book of Hebrews is challenging. There is a reason. The letter was written for Jews who had become Christians. There was plenty of persecution going on. Many decided they had enough and wanted to return to their Jewish roots. They wanted to live under the Old Testament laws of sacrifice and holy days, where the High Priest was front and center and the Temple was so important.
Last week I preached from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul addressed a group called Judaizers who were trying to ruin the purity of faith in Jesus saves. They respected Jesus, but they missed the laws and traditions of the Old Testament. They wanted to observe them again. They believed that a little of Jesus and a little of obedience of those laws got them to heaven. Works with faith was their formula for heaven. That insults Jesus. What makes anyone believe that anyone can add to what Jesus has done?
The people to whom Hebrews is addressed took it even farther. They dumped Jesus completely from the salvation equation. “I” + “I” = salvation. I, keeping God’s Old Testament Law, is the formula for heaven. Jesus is not part of it at all. What made this such an abomination is that they once believed in Jesus, but ditched him.
I am sure that it is hard to walk in the sandals of someone who was a Jew and lived as a Jew to understand what they went through. Very few Christians these days have done that. If we had maybe we would empathize and see things differently. But think about what these people were doing. They were choosing Moses over Jesus. They were choosing the High Priest over Jesus. They choosing the bloody sacrifices over Jesus’ sacrifice. They were choosing the slavery of worshipping at the temple and its rites and rituals over the freedom that Jesus gives to worship him anywhere at any time.
That’s the point the writer of these words: “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation.”
Before the Jews corrupted the office of High Priest and made it political, the High Priest was a really big deal in the spiritual life of the average Jew. He wore nice clothes. You could always spot him by what he wore. Most importantly, he was the focal point of the worship in the temple.
The temple also was a big deal too. Jewish people, no matter how far they lived from the temple, were supposed to show up there three times a year for special worship and sacrifices. The history of temple worship went back to Mount Sinai. God had commanded Israel to build a church that was like a tent which served as the center of worship for 400 years until Solomon’s temple.
But the Temple was not permanent. It was burned and looted a couple of times and had to be rebuilt. For that matter the priest wasn’t permanent either. They died and a new one had to be chosen.
That’s was the point. These people loved the high priest who was a sinner like they were and would die like everyone else more than Jesus, our forever High Priest who entered God’s house in heaven and appears before the Father all the time as a reminder that our sins have been taken away. Why are you ready to trade the glorious for the puny? Why will you be satisfied with less than what the Lord wants to give you? They wanted to return to the earthly temple when Jesus is in the Heavenly one along with a “great multitude that no one can count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb,” As the book of Revelation says.
I have held worship services in living rooms and conference rooms, among picnic tables in parks, in gyms, in nursing homes and community centers, but all is insignificant compared to where we will worship Jesus, our Great High Priest in Heavenly Tabernacle! Remember Jesus, the Great high Priest made it possible. Don’t settle for anything less.
The second point the Writer addresses concerns the question: Why do you want to return to the relentless sacrifices of bulls and goats when Jesus, the great high Priest offered himself once for all? “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”
The Writer is referring to a very special day called the Great Day of Atonement. He entered into the Most Holy Place just once a year. The Most Holy Place was where God showed himself to be among them particularly during the 40 years in the desert. The High Priest entered the room with blood in his hands – with the blood of a bull for his own sin and the blood of a goat for the sins of the people. What a picture of what was coming. Only by blood can we ever stand in the presence of God. We can only stand in the presence of God with blood, the blood of Jesus!
Why so much emphasis on blood? Frankly, it has turned many people off over the centuries. Why does God demand blood? I can’t believe in a bloody God like that!”
Follow me on this. God said to his Old Testament people, the book of Leviticus, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Blood is pretty important, isn’t it? You can’t live without it. Blood is the difference between life and death. God made blood as the price of atonement to make things right with him.
Yet the blood of goats and bulls wasn’t sufficient either. “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean.” That only cleansed outwardly, not inwardly. Jesus’ blood can only do that. Something greater was needed to take away sins.
I was in a conversation recently with a group of people about the type of blood we have. I know mine is O positive. O positive blood is important for maintaining the blood supply. O positive is the most common blood type and therefore needed by so many, approximately 37.4% of the population. Yet there are medical reasons why I can’t give blood to help another person. Even if I could, my blood would extend a life only for a while because we are all going to die.
There is a passage in the Psalms that speaks a truth. “No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough.” My payment of blood can never save you. Yours can’t save mine. Only the blood of Jesus saves. The writer writes, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
There are at least 43 references to the blood of Christ in the New Testament, all testify to its importance in the salvation and daily life of the believer. Even Judas the betrayer spoke of it as "innocent blood.” Jesus blood was never spoiled by sin. Jesus blood was indeed innocent blood. Peter called it "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." It was precious all right. It was the blood of God’s Son. Only his blood was precious enough to pay for the sins of everyone. Only his blood could take away the sin of the world. Don’t settle for less.
Only his blood could secure for us the eternal, not the temporary. Don’t settle for less. “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. You cannot read the Bible very long without coming across the word “covenant.” A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties by which those who participate agree to bind themselves to certain conditions.
The writer refers to two covenants - the “new” covenant and the “first” covenant. The New Covenant is the Gospel, the good news that through the blood of Jesus we have forgiveness and life that never ends. The first covenant is the Law. The one these people wanted to return to. It is filled with do’s and don’ts. I sent out a devotion yesterday that said it like this: “The Law is all about “DO,” the Gospel is all about “DONE.” In the first, you must DO something to get to heaven. You have to climb the ladder to get up to God. And is it ever a long climb! The pressure is on you! You’d better get moving! Other than Christianity, every religion in the world ever dreamed up by man…with all the twists and turns, rules and regulations, they boil down to DO.” That’s what the people addressed want to do, return to that.
But Jesus became the mediator of the new covenant. He stepped between God and us. That’s what mediators do. He met the conditions of the old covenant for us. He obeyed the Old Covenant for us. But he also paid for all our failures committed under the Old Covenant with his blood. Why would anyone return to the Old Covenant and turn away from the new? Don’t settle for anything less than the new, sealed and guaranteed by the Lamb.