LOOKING FOR A BETTER PLACE
“Neither was it by blood of goats and bulls, but by His own blood that He entered once and for all into the Most Holy Place having obtained eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:11-15
Contrary to popular opinion the church is not interested in making the world a better place. We know from God’s Word that the world and her people are utterly desecrated, so we do not waste our time trying to fix the unfixable, neither do we lose our focus. Our beat is theology, God’s Word, Sin and Grace, so like St. Paul we are determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The world cannot be improved, but it can be saved, not by politicians but by Jesus whose blood provides eternal redemption for the perpetual profanity of which our lives consist.
By profanity we do not mean coarse language, though it is one of the symptoms of a base life. Rather, to live a profane life means to love the secular rather than the sacred, to serve the creature rather than the Creator who is blessed forever (Romans 1:25). It means to receive the gifts of God as brute beasts, without understanding, faith or the giving of thanks, and to use them to serve our sordid desires rather than the Living God.
The world is very evil but it is not only the unbaptized who live profane lives. Christians, too, have sinful natures. We, too, are tempted to sin, often succumb and sometimes never get back up. This is nothing new. During forty years of wilderness wandering God’s people became impatient with the journey, even as we do today. Rather than thank God for the great deliverance from Egyptian slavery, and dedicate their lives to His service, they complained about Him, the Shepherd He gave them and the provisions He miraculously supplied them. The eyes of their hearts were turned inward. They only thought about what they did not have, instead of what they did have, namely, the Living God as their Lord, who satisfies the desires of every living thing. Neither was it a minor rumbling that was brewing, but large scale discontent so that the Holy Nation was about to melt down.
We see the same thing happening today both in the church and the world. The world is living in a massive bubble which is about to pop and people know it. The church appears no more faithful than rebellious Israel we hear about in today's Old Testament lesson (Numbers 21:4-9). How do you stop such a thing? The LORD knew. He sent what Scripture calls “fiery serpents” to bite the people, and many of them died as a result. It didn’t take them very long to connect the dots. They knew that they had brought wrath onto themselves by their love of the secular, and though they were terrified, they knew where help was to be found. They ran with all haste to the one person who could save them, to Moses who was a model of the coming Christ, and he had pity on them. He prayed for his ailing flock and God answered by giving them a bronze snake on a pole to heal them. The Bible records no directions for its use, but again the connections didn’t take long. People who were bit quickly discovered that if anyone simply lifted up his eyes and looked at the bronze snake, he would be healed. It was that simple and that perfect. How can bronze snakes do such great things? They can’t, but God can. By means of this pole, which was prophetic of Christ and of the New Testament Sacraments, God was giving new life to His people ,so that they might purge their consciences from dead works and serve Him with all their hearts, souls and minds.
Fourteen centuries later Jesus said to Nicodemus: as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14-15 ) Salvation is still that simple and still that perfect. Look to the cross on which Jesus died, and it will undo the devil’s poisonous bites.
The only cure for perpetual profanity is eternal redemption, and we have it in Christ. The writer to the Hebrews explains this by contrasting Jesus with the Old Testament High Priest. Under the Old Covenant the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place once a year in order to obtain remission for the people’s sins, and secure God’s blessings for them. It was understood that he was not to go in empty-handed but that he had to sacrifice a bull for his own sins, and a goat for those of the people, and that the blood of the sacrifices was the price of admission. It was a ritual that had to be repeated every year because the sins of the people were perpetual. That’s how it is with sin; there’s no way to turn off the spigot. As long as there are people there will be sin so our redemption needs to be one that is inexhaustible.
But Jesus our priceless treasure and sinless Savior was different. He too made a sacrifice, that of His own unblemished and indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16), which He willingly offered to God for us. His self-sacrifice was an intelligent and loving response to the holy and gracious will of God, and to the terrible situation of man. Though we will never fully comprehend it, may we believe it exclusively and be eternally grateful for it.
He was different, too, in that He did not enter as a yearly visitor like the Old Testament High Priest, but according to the writer, our crucified and resurrected Lord “passed through the heavens” to the very throne of God (Hebrews 4:14) where He ever lives to make intercession for us. This is the Glad Message that purges our consciences, allays our fears and energizes us to offer up sacrifices of praise and good works which are pleasing and acceptable to God (Hebrews 13:16). May we do so more and more.
But please don’t think that redemption is something far removed from us, or beyond our grasp. We not only grasp it in our minds by faith, but we actively participate in it when we join in the church's worship, even as we are doing at this very time. In this sacred assembly forgiveness of sins and all its attendant benefits are imparted to us by Jesus Himself, as we hear His Word, eat His flesh and drink His blood. These gifts not only keep us in faith, but they comfort us in all our troubles and strengthen us to complete the journey ahead, until we too pass through the heavens where we will be with our Lord and serve the Living God perpetually. Amen.
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras