Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost October 24, 2021
Practice What You Preach: Share Boldly!
When have you ever heard a sermon based primarily on a reading from the book of Hebrews? Never, ever, is the answer for 99 percent of us. It’s a challenging book, and while grace-filled delivers a long-drawn out sermon preaching on who Jesus is and what He does using Old Testament references to the Patriarchs and an obscure figure called Melchizedek. We’ll get to Melchizedek later, but for now I feel a need to tell you the book is important even if it takes some work wading through it for the glorious way that it draws together the Old Testament understanding of the Messiah and the New Testament Jesus. It all makes sense, from the old priest Melchizedek to the sacrificial system of Israel to the suffering servant to the incarnate Son of God who gave His sinless life on the cross for our sin.
If that were not enough, the Holy Spirit through this book and its writer gently leads us all to “deeper dimensions of faith” in our crucified and risen Savior. We have a mentor in the disciple who gave us this book; a mentor who gently and persuasively teaches us to overcome our tendencies to fall off the path that Jesus has laid out for us. A mentor who assures us that we do not need to fear Christ’s wrath, for though sinless, He was, as a human being like ourselves, tempted to sin, though He never Himself fell into sin. But He knows our struggles to live godly lives, and is ever willing to lead us back to the way when we have gone astray.
We could be led astray by the title of this biblical book. The book of Hebrews deliberately ties not only the origins of our faith but also ourselves as disciples to Israel, to the Hebrews of Israel. But it is written primarily for Christians who live far outside of Judah. This tells us the book was likely written after 70 ad and the fall of Jerusalem. For Christians of Jewish descent, it is a reminder to those whose ancestors worshipped in the Temple or walked the dusty byways of the Galilee that their Lord is, indeed, the Messiah long-promised by God Himself. For those Christians of Gentile descent, it ties them to the Old Testament and its God, showing them how the Christ of the Gentiles is the Messiah of the Jews.
But most of all, the writer of the book of Hebrews wants us all to understand that it is only through Jesus Christ that we will come to the fullness of life. And, as faithful Christians living in the fullness of life Christ accords us, we are to preach our faith loudly and live it boldly.
The lesson is more historical than liturgical. While the writer talks of the Jewish sacrificial system and its purpose, the forgiveness of sin, in very broad terms, he does not get into the minutia of it like Leviticus does. Instead, we travel through time with him to the institution of God’s first covenant with Abraham. Abraham, still Abram at this time, learns from those who had escaped capture that his brother, Lot, and all his family and all his goods, has been taken by the army that destroyed Sodom. Taking 318 men of his own household whose loyalties were known, Abram divided his army, snuck around the enemy army at night, and won back his brother and all that was his. Returning home from that successful battle, Abram is met by Melchizedek, who is both king and high priest. Melchizedek brings Abram bread and wine, and blesses him, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessors of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” In return for the blessing, Abram gives the priest king a tenth of all that was with him.
Now, who do we know who is both king and high priest? Who do we know comes to us in bread and wine? And who blesses us but the God of heaven and earth who made us and delivers us from sin and death? To whom do we give our tithe, our ten percent, in grateful response to our salvation? None other but Jesus Christ, through whom, in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have our salvation and to whom we give our tithe. Melchizedek, who serves no Temple bureaucracy but only the Most High God Himself, and with the authority of the Most High God, foreshadows our Lord Jesus Christ, who will offer His own crucified body and blood to His disciples for the forgiveness of their sin and then promise them, through His resurrection, eternal life.
This is not just mere supposition on our parts, a loosey-goosey interpretation based on patterns that are familiar to us that we then read into the text from Hebrews. In the fifth chapter of Hebrews the writer makes a direct connection between the Old Testament king and high priest Melchizedek and Jesus Christ. Quoting Psalm 110, he writes, “So also Christ did not exalt Himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by Him who said to Him, ‘You are my Son, today I have begotten you’; and then He says, ‘You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.’” me
Having made this connection between Melchizedek and Jesus, the writer of Hebrews notes that another priest like Melchizedek would not have been necessary if Israel’s priestly caste, the Levites, could actually accomplish for eternity what they were set apart to do. They cannot make the perfect sacrifice, for as men they are themselves imperfect as are the animals they sacrifice. There must be many priests, one after another, because they are mortal and therefore die. The sacrifices they perform must be replicated because while they do result in the forgiveness of sin, it is forgiveness for one sin, not all the sin a man or woman might commit. Every time someone sins, the sacrifice must be repeated. So a sinner, needing to pay the price for his or her sin, would purchase a measure of grain, or two turtle doves, or even a calf or a goat if they had wealth enough and the sin required it. The priest would sacrifice the animal, a declaration of sorts that the sin of the purchaser had been transferred to the animal whose life was then rendered up in payment of that sin. In other words, the sinner bore the price for his or her sin, but paid that price in the purchase of the sacrificial lamb.
But Jesus breaks that age-old design. Jesus, our great high priest, is Himself both the priest and the sacrifice. He takes on the burden of our sin, and He pays the price for our forgiveness. As both priest and sacrifice He is perfectly holy, blameless, and righteous, so His willing sacrifice of His sinless life on the cross is perfect and accomplishes in itself the forgiveness of all sin for all time. The sacrifice He made not only does not need to be repeated but cannot be repeated. There will be no other sacrificial Lamb, bearing our sins to the cross, for Jesus’ sacrifice was a once and for all giving that wiped our sin from creation’s face. We never need to pay for the sacrifice of a goat or a calf or a couple of doves because Jesus paid the price for our sin. And because Jesus, as the incarnate Son of God, lives eternally, no other priest need sacrifice another living creature to win our salvation. He has paid the price for our sin in full.
Because Jesus has paid in full for our sin, for love’s sake, we know that we have life in Him in its fullest. We do not need to fear our Lord for our imperfections, our mortality, or our sin. For, like the blind man, Bartimaeus, we know our Savior to be merciful. Now, there were those around Bartimaeus who sought to shut him up, so that he did not disturb our Lord’s peace. But Jesus Himself would have none of that and called the blind man up to His position on the road. And when the blind man asked for his sight, Jesus told him, “’Go your way; your faith has made you well.’” And what did the blind man do when he recovered his sight, but make Jesus’ way his way, too.
We too know that Jesus Christ is merciful, that He has paid the price of our sin in full, and because He has we may follow in the way He has set out for us with joyful hearts and loud voices. To practice what we preach we cannot let the naysayers silence our voices and our witness. Rather, we are to live boldly, enjoying both the life God has given us and the restoration to wholeness we receive in our Baptism, at the Lord’s Table, and any time we unburden our hearts of our sin. Then, just as boldly, we are to proclaim Jesus as Savior and Lord, King and great high priest, to a world beset by sin and death.