Posted by: Johnold Strey | November 8, 2009

Sermon on Hebrews 9:24-28

IT ONLY TAKES ONE…

  1. One sacrifice of Jesus to do away with sin
  2. One appearance of Jesus to deliver us salvation

Text: Hebrews 9:24-28

Introduction

My father-in-law has a saying about home improvement projects: “Every home improvement project requires at least three trips to Home Depot.”  If you’ve ever tackled one of those projects around your home, you know what I mean.  About a year or so ago, one of the church council members installed a new closet in one of the parsonage bedrooms, and I’m pretty sure we made three trips to Home Depot to get that project done!  Rare is the major household improvement project that only requires one trip to the home improvement store!

The Second Lesson for today’s service talks about a “repair project” that makes any of our own personal household projects seem insignificant and unimportant.  Our reading from the New Testament book of Hebrews describes the project Jesus undertook to permanently repair the damage that sin brought into our world and into our lives.  With an eternally important divine project like that—rescuing the world from its own sin!—you would think that this would be a project that would span centuries.  But if we assume that, we would be wrong.  In just one visit to our sinful world, Jesus undid the eternal consequences of sin.  And in one return visit in the future, Jesus will bring us to the eternal blessings of heaven.  That’s what our reading from Hebrews teaches us today.  It only takes one!  It only takes one sacrifice of Jesus to do away with sin.  It only takes one appearance of Jesus to deliver us salvation.

I.

Hebrews can be a hard book for modern Christians to understand.  The biggest reason for the difficulty is because Hebrews was written to first-century Jewish Christians who were well acquainted with Old Testament Jewish customs.  The writer of this book regularly points back to Old Testament customs his readers would have known, and then shows how these customs were previews of the saving work that Jesus Christ would accomplish.  And that’s exactly what the writer is doing in today’s reading.  Listen to the first several verses again.  “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.  Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.  But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” 

The ancient Jerusalem temple was meant to be a symbol of God’s presence in various ways.  One feature of the temple was the center room called the Most Holy Place.  This room was separated from the rest of the temple by walls on three sides and a thick curtain at its entrance.  Once a year (and only once a year) on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the high priest (and only the high priest) entered the Most Holy Place.  He entered just after he had sacrificed a goat and had collected some of the goat’s blood.  He came into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkled the goat’s blood on a gold-covered wooden chest in the center of the Most Holy Place.  That chest was called the Ark of the Covenant.  Inside the ark were the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Old Testament Illustrations 067There was an unspoken sermon in this annual ceremony.  The blood of that sacrificial animal was shed in place of the people, whose sins deserved death.  The animal died instead, and the animal’s blood covered the ark that housed the Ten Commandments.  So when God the Father peered down from heaven and looked at the ark, he didn’t see the Ten Commandments and their accusations of sin.  God saw the blood of the sacrificial animal covering up the law and its accusations.  The blood of the sacrifice covered up the guilt of the people’s sin.  Does that sound familiar?  Does that maybe, just maybe, sound like the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world?

But there was one major difference between the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the sacrifice of Jesus.  The Day of Atonement’s sacrifice was repeated year after year.  It wasn’t the ultimate remedy for sin, but a picture and preview of the once-for-all sacrifice that would come in the future.  But now that sacrifice had come!  And it only took one sacrifice of Jesus to do away with sin – because Jesus was no ordinary sacrifice!  Only one sacrifice of Jesus was needed to do away with sin because of the incalculable value of the sacrifice.  This was no ancient animal sacrifice.  This was no pagan human sacrifice.  This was a gracious divine sacrifice.  This sacrifice revealed the depths of God’s love for his wayward creatures!  God would actually send his Son to take up the sin of a world full of rebels!  The Son of God would actually take responsibility for that sin, even though it was not his own, and then pay for it all by his own sacrifice.  God himself, in the person of Jesus, would shed his own blood to cover up the world’s sin and cleanse it from its shame.  And in that one sacrifice, Jesus did away with the world’s sin: “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

If only we would believe that wholeheartedly!  If only our sinful nature would not cause us doubts and uncertainty!  If only our wandering minds would not keep us awake at night by thoughts of the foolish words of yesterday and the shameful acts of yesteryear.  If only our Old Adam would stop denying the cleansing power of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice which is more than sufficient to wash away my sin.  If only our human frailties would not get in the way of our hearts grasping and clinging to this message.  If only our inner desire to try to “make up” for our sin could be turned off so that the Word of God could do its work on our stubborn hearts.  If only we clung more to our Baptisms as if it was the greatest gift we had ever received.  If only we longed for the body and blood of Jesus in the Sacrament as the greatest heavenly food our souls could receive and our lips could taste.

New Testament Illustrations 032Satan would love to take your worries and fears and turn them into despair and then unbelief.  If he can’t lead you away from Jesus in sin, he will try to lead you away in despair.  And that is why this age-old truth needs to be said again and again.  That is why the Holy Spirit reveals this truth to us again week after week—today in an illustration that our minds can picture.  It only takes one sacrifice of Jesus to do away with sin!  Your personal feelings do not erase the once-for all sacrifice Jesus offered on the cross.  Your inner worries and fears do not change the fact that God’s own Son gave his life for you.  Nothing you do or say or imagine can change the historical fact that Jesus Christ suffered and died to take away your sin, and nothing you do or say or imagine can change the theological truth that Jesus’ one sacrifice was all that it took to do away with your sin.

II.

Today is the Sunday of the church year that we call, “Last Judgment.”  We are three Sundays away from starting a new church year, and when we arrive near the end of the old church year, we usually spend about three Sundays talking about things that have to do with the end of time: the final judgment, heaven and hell, and Christ’s eternal rule over all things.  Today is the day we think about the final judgment, and the end of our Second Lesson gets our thoughts headed in that direction.  “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

The first section in our reading used an illustration, and then drew a comparison between that illustration and Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice on the cross.  There is a similar pattern in the last two verses we just heard, but this time the illustration isn’t one that is unique to the Jewish culture.  This time his illustration is the cold reality of death.  There isn’t a single person who hasn’t had to deal with death and issues of mortality in some form or another.  We receive reminders about the reality of death in the declining health of our loved ones or maybe ourselves, in the shocking news reports of shootings at a military base last week, and in the inevitable change and decay that is a part of everyday life.  But after our death comes the day that we stand before God to hear his just judgment and his righteous verdict.

Our reading draws a parallel to that sequence of events and the sequence of events related to Jesus’ death.  Jesus also died – not because of his sin, but because of ours.  And what eventually follows his death is the final judgment – not a judgment of Jesus, but the last judgment by Jesus.  One more appearance of Jesus is coming in the future, and at that appearance he will deliver his people their eternal salvation.  “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Most people don’t like the thought of being the defendant who stands before the judge in the courtroom.  Far fewer like the thought of being the sinner who stands before Almighty God at the final judgment.  Do you really want your life story to be the basis for a cross-examination?  Do you really want the prosecution to dig up and drag out the immaturity of your youth and the pride of your present?  Do you really want to stand face to face with the One who knows every incident from your past that you hoped no one would ever find out about?

But listen to our reading again, because if the final judgment frightens you, then these words are the antidote.   “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”  At the final judgment, you will not stand before an unjust judge who is out to get you.  At the final judgment, you will stand before your loving Lord who is out to save you!  Jesus’ first entrance into this world did away with your sin, and his one remaining appearance will deliver us our eternal salvation.  His first entrance won your eternal redemption, and his remaining appearance will deliver that redemption to you personally.  His first entrance won your eternal life by his resurrection from the dead, and his remaining appearance will deliver you from this world into the eternal gates of heaven where death, hell, and sin can harm you no more.  Those who ridiculed and sold him, pierced and nailed him to the tree will be deeply wailing at his return, but with what wonder will we will gaze on his glorious scars and praise him for his glorious grace on the Last Day!  (cf. “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending, CW #29 & CWS #704)

Conclusion

During the recent off-year elections, we again heard the encouragement to get out and vote because every individual vote counts.  Public service announcements on the radio encourage people to get involved in the community, because every individual person can make a difference.  All around us are signs and reminders that one person can make a difference for the better.

But every example we come up with will pale to the accomplishments of Jesus Christ.  One sacrifice of Jesus has done away with sin.  One remaining appearance of Jesus will deliver us our salvation.  That’s the one and only reason you need to live life with a clear conscience now as you wait for the one day when your one and only Savior delivers you the one gift that you’ve been waiting for—heaven!  Amen.

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