Posted by: Johnold Strey | February 13, 2016

Sermon on Hebrews 4:14-16

First Sunday in Lent — February 14, 2016 — Sermon starts at 26:50

JESUS IS BETTER THAN ALL THE REST!

  1. So cling to your faith firmly
  2. So come to God’s throne confidently

Text: Hebrews 4:14-16

Introduction

Super Bowl Manning TrophyA week ago at this time, sports commentators around the nation were predicting who would win the Super Bowl. Most said that the Carolina Panthers were the best team in the league and that they would be the ones hoisting the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the day. Of course, just because the majority holds to one opinion doesn’t mean the majority will be right—and they weren’t. The old “Sheriff,” Payton Manning, and his Denver Broncos were the ones who came out victorious. The majority of sports commentators didn’t get it right.

Last night the nation suffered through yet another political debate. Various polls suggest that this or that candidate is going to win this or that primary, but just because the majority of pollsters suggest a specific candidate will win doesn’t mean that it will actually happen that way. And just because the majority of voters eventually elects a particular candidate to be our next president doesn’t always mean that we have found the best person for the job. The majority of pollsters and the majority of voters don’t always get it right.

A good portion of the first Christian converts were Jews. That makes sense: Jesus was a Jew, and the Old Testament laws and ceremonies that God gave the Jews were meant to point forward in time to the arrival of Jesus. Some Jews came to faith in Jesus, but many rejected him as the promised Savior. The Jews who came to faith in Jesus often suffered for their faith in Jesus. They were keenly aware that they did not hold the majority opinion, and the persecution that some of them suffered led them to wonder if they should leave their Christian faith behind. But in the Second Lesson for today’s service, these Jewish Christian received an important encouragement. Just because the majority of their fellow Jews thought that sticking with their old perspectives was the way to go doesn’t mean that that was the way to go.

The person that God inspired to write the book of Hebrews encouraged those ancient Jews that trusting in Jesus was far better than clinging to their former ways and waiting for a Savior who had now come! This morning we will benefit from this biblical encouragement as much as the first century Jews who first received this letter. After all, we live in a world that says every path to God is equally valid, and that too is a temptation to leave Jesus behind. But today’s Second Lesson from Hebrews 4:14-16 teaches us that Jesus is better than all the rest. And since he is, let us cling to our faith firmly, and let us come to God’s throne confidently.

I.

Old Testament Illustrations 031You can understand why Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century would have felt a strong temptation to leave their faith behind. Not only did many of them experience persecution for their Christian faith, but they also gave up a lot to become Christian. The temple ceremonies and religious festivals that were a regular part of their lives and culture were suddenly left behind as they worshipped Jesus, whom they could no longer see. They could still go to the temple. They could still see the regular rituals. But they couldn’t see Jesus and they had no established Christian rituals immediately after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. You can see why they would think that Jesus wasn’t worth the trouble.

But the writer to these Jewish Christians said to them: “Yes! Jesus is worth the trouble! He is better than anything else!” Our reading says, “Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” The Jewish Christians reading this may have missed their former celebration of the Day of Atonement, which was sort of like the Old Testament version of Good Friday. On that day, the High Priest passed through the special room in the temple called the “Holy Place” to enter into the most sacred room in the temple called the “Most Holy Place.” This only happened once a year, and on that day the high priest could only enter into the Most Holy Place with the blood of a sacrificed animal. 

All of this was meant to be a symbol of what Jesus was going to do and now had done. After his death and resurrection, Jesus went through the heavens above to return to heaven, the ultimate “Most Holy Place.” And he returned to heaven in victory because of the blood he shed on the cross to pay for the sins of the entire world. The temple rituals they left behind served a good purpose for a time, but that time had passed after the arrival of Jesus. What Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection was so much better than an Old Testament symbol of what he had now already accomplished. And for that reason, the writer says, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”

You can understand why Christians today feel a strong temptation to leave their faith behind. Young people in college hear professors and classmates tear down their faith, and since they’re not sure how to respond, they assume there is no response, and they leave their faith behind. The repeated refrain that all roads lead to heaven makes one wonder if getting up on Sunday morning and heading to the corner of Kingswood and Birdcage is worth the trouble.

But the writer to the Hebrews says to you: “Yes, Jesus is worth the trouble! He is better than anything else!” Name another religion that can point to real, actual, historical events—like Jesus’ resurrection—as the basis for what they believe and how they get right with God. You can’t. Name another path to God that takes all fear and uncertainty away because God himself did everything from start to finish to remove the guilt and punishment of sin that would have otherwise kept us out of his presence forever. You can’t. Name another faith that doesn’t leave you wondering or worrying whether or not God loves you enough that he would send his own Son to hell and back to rescue us from hell forever. You can’t. Jesus is better than all the rest—and that’s all the reason we need to cling to our faith firmly.

II.

If you are dealing with a particular problem, what kind of person would you turn to for advice or help? We tend to turn to people we know who have gone through the same problem in the past or are going through the same problem right now. If parents have a child that struggles with a particular ailment, they seek advice from other parents with children facing the same situation. People seek out support groups because there is a lot of comfort and support when we can talk to others who are facing the same struggles that we are.

Since Jesus had returned to heaven, I wonder if many first century Jewish Christians began to wonder what good it was to follow someone they could no longer see now because he was ruling and reigning from heaven above. Maybe they thought that Jesus, because he is God Almighty, couldn’t relate to their trials and temptations. And if he couldn’t relate, then why should they bother to follow him?

But Jesus could relate. He may be God Almighty ruling and reigning from heaven, but when he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, he became a real human being just like any one of us. And he faced the troubles and temptations that real human beings face, just like any one of us. The only difference is that Jesus faced those temptations perfectly, just as he did three times in the Gospel for today. Our reading says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

There’s not one of us here today who doesn’t struggle with some type of sin. Your sin may be different than mine, and your struggle may look different than mine, but the only person here who doesn’t struggle against sin is delusional! Did you wake up this morning and have nothing but joyful thoughts about coming to church today, or was there a part of you that could come up with a few “better” things to do with your time? Have the lips which have praised God in worship today expressed nothing in the past week but words that build others up and encourage them, or has biting gossip and negative criticism become a personal pastime? Is the love you profess for your spouse on this Valentine’s Day a sincere expression of the self-sacrificing love you express for your spouse every day, or are today’s actions just meeting the requirements of a Hallmark holiday?

There’s not one of us here today who doesn’t struggle with some type of sin. And that reality often leaves us with feelings of guilt. We can squelch the voice of our conscience all we want, but deep down inside we know that this guilt puts us on the wrong side of God’s judgment.

But not so fast. Our guilt should put us on the wrong side of God’s judgment, but here are two reasons why that’s not going to happen for you. Verse 15: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.” Jesus Christ felt the same struggles and temptations you have. When we turn to him in prayer and ask for his help, we’re turning to our brother who has “been there, done that,” and wants to strengthen us to successfully stand up to those temptations.

Okay, Jesus knows my struggles. He’s “been there, done that.” But he didn’t fail. I fail all the time! Doesn’t that mean he’s going to judge me for my guilt? Verse 16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Approaching Jesus is called “approach[ing] the throne of grace.” You’re not approaching a God who’s out to get you. You’re approaching a God who was determined to get you out of hell and into his family. That’s why Jesus, in his grace, stood up to each one of Satan’s temptations. That’s why Jesus, in his grace, endured your hell on your behalf on the cross. That’s why Jesus, in his grace, reaches out to you in his Word and in the font’s waters and in the altar’s meal to deliver his gracious forgiveness to you personally.

So come to God’s throne confidently. When you do, Jesus will be there to have mercy on you, because he knows the struggles you face, and he faced the same struggles perfectly on your behalf. Come to God’s throne confidently, because Jesus is eager and willing to comfort you with his undeserved and unending love that was on full display at the cross, that was proven at his empty tomb, and that will last for all eternity. Promises from God like these show us why Jesus is better than all the rest!

Conclusion

Right after the New Year, I retired a pair of brown dress shoes that I had worn since I was a Seminary student. I had worn that pair of shoes for about twenty years. I bought those shoes from the Allen-Edmonds shoe factory near my hometown in Wisconsin, and I’ve bought all my dress shoes from them. You definitely pay more for their product, but the product is so superior that I’m willing to pay more up front knowing that the investment will pay off in the long run. When a product is that much better than all the rest, you don’t settle for something less!

We don’t pay to follow Christ or invest in him like we do when we buy some product at the store today. But there is no doubt that Christ offers something for our soul that makes him better than all the rest. No one else can give you no-strings-attached freedom from guilt. No one else can say that your status before God is secure just by believing in him. No one else will be able to tell you that your eternal future is signed, sealed, and delivered through the blood that he shed for you on the cross. Jesus is better than all the rest! So cling to your faith firmly. Come to God’s throne of prayer confidently. And bask in his grace eternally. Amen.

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