Bethany Lutheran Church, Bigfork, MT


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Sermon 3-18-2018
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Hebrews 5
Pastor Christopher Miller

One of the dimensions of our faith that doesn't get talked about enough is the connection between the Old and New Testaments. Of course, we read the Old Testament every Sunday, and I preach from it on a regular basis. But we often try to make so much of Jesus that we miss some of the richness and the power of the old tradition. I am not immune to this, because when I discovered that our friends in the Missouri Synod are working on a whole Bible commentary series, and that one of the first volumes completed was Leviticus, I was surprised. I, like many of you, had the idea that there is no Gospel there. There is no work of Christ there. It's all law. Well, today's New Testament reading from Hebrews shows us that this idea of the Old Testament doesn't hold water.
In fact, Hebrews as a book is an entire outline of how the New Testament was foreshadowed in the Old. But the reading from today focuses on one specific role: the role of the priest. The priestly system was vital to Israel. It was the priests that were authorized to make sacrifices for the sins of the people. There were many of them, as many as were necessary for the responsibility of making all these
sacrifices for all these people of Israel. They did have other duties, such as overseeing the non-priest Levites in their work, resolving disputes, and teaching people the Law. But the work that took up the most time was the offering of sacrifices. There was another level to this priesthood: the high priest. The high priest could only come from Aaron's descendants. This was the priest who wore the special breastplate, and was the only one to have access to the Holy of Holies, only on the Day of Atonement.
Hebrews lifts up a key part of this system. The High Priest offers sacrifices for the sins of the people, just like the other priests, but no matter who they are, they need to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well. They realize the depth of their own sin, because they are human. No matter what others would think, they knew that they were sinful. Unfortunately, for modern spiritual leaders, this is sometimes not the case. A trend of a "cult of personality" has cropped up in the modern church over the last 50 to 75 years. It happens in large ways and small ways. In the large ways, this is the megachurch pastor who brings in the crowds, can never be questioned, and it ends up that their sins of pride and egotism catch up with them. In the small ways, it's the beloved pastor who stayed for 20 years that no future pastor can ever measure up to. It can even be seen in unofficial ways, where a congregation acts a certain way because there is a certain person or family that wants it that way. We put such stock in our leaders that they can start to believe it, or want to believe it.
It's because we want someone to handle things for us. They've got the knowledge, they've got the training, they've got the special qualities, and because deep down, we know we can't do it. We know we are sinful, but we can't make the sacrifices necessary to do anything about it. In fact, we don't want to make the sacrifice. And this is why so many priests throughout the history of Israel had trouble or left behind God's service or were dispensed with by God. The priests, even up to the high priest, didn't want to make the sacrifice either. We humans don't want to sacrifice anything that we have. Sacrifice to us is death, and it's the same thing to God.
So, he decided to make the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. He sent his Son, and ordained him as high priest. He was not the high priest in the order of Aaron or Levi, however. He was ordained in the order of Melchizedek, a high priest who served Abraham, coming out of nowhere with bread and wine to bless him and his children. He submitted to God, in every way. He offered up cries and prayers, which his Father heard. And then, he offered sacrifice. He entered the holy of holies, known as Golgotha. He placed there his sacrifice, his own body. And in his death, he was made perfect. He became the source of eternal salvation. This also meant one important thing: our days of sacrifice to God were over. The days of having someone between you and God were over. You don't have to sacrifice, because that sacrifice has been satisfied. I don't have to stand in for you with God. No one does, including your own self. Because Jesus Christ already has. Your sins are forgiven, because
the High Priest who knew no sin laid himself on the altar of the cross, and delivered you once for all time. And he was the only priest who could do it. AMEN.


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