Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 3, 2009

Sermon on Hebrews 3:1-6

THERE’S NO COMPARISON

  1. Moses was a faithful servant,
  2. but Jesus is our faithful Savior.

Text: Hebrews 3:1-6

Introduction

I began this morning’s service stating that today is the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany.  But most Americans woke up this morning thinking that today is Super Bowl Sunday.  The pregame show on NBC started a half hour before our service began, even though the game won’t be on until 3:00 p.m. Pacific Time this afternoon.  And between now and kick off, the big question about the big game will be, “Who is going to win?”  Will Kurt Warner and the Cardinals’ offense be able to stop the Steelers’ shut-down defense?  Will the Arizona underdogs be able to sneak one past Pittsburgh and take the Lombardi trophy home?  If you want to predict who is going to win, you have to compare the teams’ strengths and weaknesses, their stars and their injuries, and then give reasons why one compares favorably over the other.

The Second Lesson in today’s service gives us a comparison of sorts — not of great football stars, but of important biblical figures.  The Second Lesson really ties together the other two readings in this service.  The First Lesson (Deuteronomy 18:15-20) records Moses speaking to ancient Israel and telling them about the great prophet who was to come, Jesus Christ.  The Gospel (Mark 1:21-28) reveals Jesus as the great prophet who demonstrated his greatness and his divinity by word and deed.  And just as many people are convinced that the Pittsburgh Steelers are the superior team in today’s Super Bowl, there’s far less doubt — really, none at all — as to who is greater between Jesus and Moses.

The answer should be obvious: Jesus.  But the letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who weren’t so sure that was the case.  Troubles and persecution for their newfound faith in Christ led many first century Jewish Christians to reconsider whether or not Jesus was worth the trouble.  And so the author of this letter writes to tell his audience that when it comes to Moses and Jesus, there is no comparison.  Yes, Moses was a faithful servant of the Lord, but Jesus is unquestionably greater because he is our faithful Savior.

I.

Question: How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  Answer: Change?  Lutherans don’t change!

I’ve heard that joke before, although I think that it’s more stereotypical than typical.  I also think that it is not unique to Lutherans.  Most people don’t like change.  I’ve said that most people are really conservative by nature — whether their beliefs are “liberal” or “conservative,” they want to conserve and not deviate from their own core ideas and values.  We may not know what we like, but we like what we know, and we’re not inclined to change all that much.

To an extent, that was the problem among the Jewish Christians who received this letter.  They had changed; they had come to faith in Jesus.  But now they weren’t so sure that change was a good idea.  They confessed Jesus as the promised Messiah at great personal expense, and so they were tempted to abandon their Christian faith and go back exclusively to Moses and the Prophets as the sole sum and source of their beliefs.  And even though there was no reason to pit the promises of the Old Testament against the fulfillment in the New Testament, they were ready to pit Moses and Jesus against one another, declare that Moses was superior, and return to a waiting period for the Messiah that Moses had predicted.

There was no reason to pit Moses and Jesus against one another, even when one rightly recognizes that Jesus is superior.  In the First Lesson, Moses pointed people forward to Jesus as the great prophet to come.  Moses knew who was greater.  So did the writer of Hebrews.  But recognizing that Jesus is superior does not suggest that Moses did not play an important role in God’s kingdom.  “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future.”

Moses did what every faithful pastor should do.  He pointed people to Jesus.  In his case, this meant that he “[testified] to what would be said in the future.”  Today, this means that a pastor points people back to the past, to the saving and redeeming work of Jesus Christ.  But Moses’ job then and the pastor’s job today is to point people to Jesus.  Pastors, preachers, and prophets are just a part of the church, but Jesus redeemed the church and sends his Spirit to build the church.  Even though it seemed otherwise and others thought otherwise, these Jewish Christians were not turning their backs on their roots when they came to faith in Jesus.  Moses had been a faithful servant in the Lord’s church, and they could still recognize that fact even as they turned to faith in Jesus Christ.

My five-year-old daughter and I have a little joke between us.  I will occasionally ask her, “If we go to a church and the pastor doesn’t talk about Jesus, what should we do?”  And she very proudly and loudly answers, “Get out!”  That may be a cute exchange between a pastor and his little girl, but there is an important lesson in that exchange.  The faithful pastor’s job is to point you to Jesus.  Maybe there will be a Super Bowl illustration in the sermon, but the sermon isn’t about the Super Bowl.  Maybe there will be a joke about Lutheran quirks in the sermon, but the sermon isn’t about Martin Luther or the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod or Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.  The faithful pastor’s job is to point you to Jesus.  That’s why Moses was a faithful servant, and that’s what you should expect from faithful servants in God’s church.

Perhaps that truth is so obvious that we can forget it.  But it’s so important that we dare not forget it!  If the servant of God isn’t serving you with the gospel, you are not being served!  The Super Bowl sermon illustration cannot illustrate how you have been rescued and redeemed.  The joke about Lutheran quirks cannot quiet your soul with peace and forgiveness.  And an honorable mention for the synod cannot take away your sin or make you honorable before God.

II.

Thank God for faithful servants like Moses.  But remember that those faithful servants cannot compare to Jesus, who is your faithful Savior.  That was the big point that the author of Hebrews was trying to get across to his audience.  Our reading began, “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.  He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.”  A good rule of thumb when you’re reading your Bible is that when you see the word “therefore,” you should ask yourself what it is there for!  The word “therefore” always draws a conclusion from something previous.  Chapter three begins, Therefore, …fix your thoughts on Jesus.”  So we should look at the end of the last chapter to see where the author is heading and why he encourages us to “fix [our] thoughts on Jesus.”

The author had just described how Jesus became a true human being so that he could be the ultimate high priest and make the ultimate sacrifice by dying for our sins on the cross.  The author had just described how Jesus successfully faced every temptation in his life and offers help for the temptations we face in life.  That was more than enough reason to carefully contemplate Jesus’ superior status.

The writer called Jesus two terms that are worth noting.  The first was “apostle.”  This is the only time Jesus is called “apostle” in the New Testament.  Normally that term brings to mind Jesus’ apostles, the twelve closest disciples in his ministry who were his students throughout his ministry and who were the pillars of the church after his ascension.  But the most basic definition of “apostle” simply means “one who is sent out.”  And if we recognize that God the Father sent out God the Son, Jesus, to carry out the plan of salvation from start to finish, from birth to death and resurrection, then the word “apostle” makes sense.

On top of that is the word “high priest.”  The author’s Jewish audience would have related to that term quite well.  The Old Testament high priest was the main mediator between God and the people.  He was the one who carried out the sacrifices, especially the great symbolic sacrifice on the Day of Atonement.  Jesus was “high priest” because he, too, carried out a sacrifice.  His sacrifice was himself.  He was the Sacrifice to which all those Old Testament sacrifices pointed.  He is the One whose blood cleanses us from sin.  His innocent death paved the way for our restored relationship with God.  That’s who Jesus was — our faithful Savior.

The reality of Jesus’ faithfulness wasn’t just a fact for readers of this letter to store in the back of their minds.  It was this fact and truth that would enable the readers to stand firm in their newfound Christian faith.  “Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”  No one can compare to Christ, because he is the head of God’s proverbial house.  Christ is the Lord of the Church, and he has made us a part of that proverbial house, a part of the church.  This is the reason to “hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”  It took courage for first century Jews to stand up for Christ, given that they were banking on something they hoped for in the future rather than something that was familiar from the past.  But if they would look carefully and see how Jesus was superior to Moses, then they would have no reason to waver in their faith.

It took courage for first century Jews to stand up for Christ, and it certainly takes courage for twenty-first century Bay Area residents to stand up for Christ.  You know how many “No on Prop 8” yard signs you saw in the last election.  You know that despite calls for tolerance, there is little tolerance for those who claim, as Jesus did, that he is the only way to eternal life.  You know the tension that your confession of faith can cause among your family and friends.  And although your Christian nature knows that nothing compares to Jesus, your sinful nature loves to convince you otherwise.  Your sinful nature wants to convince you to keep quiet about your faith, to appear to others as if you agree with the culture’s disregard for God’s commands, or to treat Jesus as something less than the Savior of the world and the only path to communion with God for all eternity.

So listen to the advice of the writer to the Hebrews.  “Fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”  Look carefully at the One who was sent out by God the Father to be your Priest and Sacrifice.  Watch this Epiphany season as the Prophet Moses predicted preaches to the crowds and simultaneously points to himself as the Word who became flesh.  Follow him into the Lenten season that begins later this month when you will hear and see the Lamb of God whose blood atones for your sins and the sins of the world.  Keep following him and watching him into Easter, when this prophet and priest also proves himself to be our risen and victorious King who has defeated death and secured for us eternal life.  Fix your thoughts on his righteousness and know that it is yours.  Fix your thoughts on his hellish death and know that he endured it on your behalf.  Fix your thoughts on his Easter victory and know that it counts for you.  Fix your eyes on your faithful Savior and feed your faith with his grace, and you will be equipped to “hold on to [your] courage and the hope of which [you] boast.”

Conclusion

I recently heard a news story that Robert A. Schuler, the son of Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuler, decided to leave the Crystal Cathedral altogether.  Over the past few months there was some obvious tension between the father and the son.  First the father dismissed the son from the Hour of Power television show produced at the Crystal Cathedral because they had different “visions” for the program.  Then the son, who was the senior pastor of the church, decided that it was in the best interest of the congregation that he step down — I assume to calm whatever remaining conflict existed between him and his father.  You can imagine what internal strife like that must do to a church.

That’s why it’s so vital that we build this church on Christ.  No one — not Moses, not Saint Paul, not Martin Luther, not Pastor Waldschmidt or Pastor Geiger or Pastor Mammel or Pastor Strey or any future pastor of this church — can compare.  Members move in and move out, programs come and go, finances go up and down, staff changes, but one thing should never change.  May Christ always be the center of our worship and ministry, because next to Christ, there’s no comparison!  Amen.

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