Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

The one thing that does it all

September 8, 0019
Martin Baker

8 September 2019                        The One Thing that Does it All   Martin Baker

Hebrews 9:1-14

1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place. 3 Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies? 4 In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which there were a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; 5 above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot speak now in detail. 6 Such preparations having been made, the priests go continually into the first tent to carry out their ritual duties; 7 but only the high priest goes into the second, and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people. 8 By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary has not yet been disclosed as long as the first tent is still standing. 9 This is a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body imposed until the time comes to set things right. 11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation), 12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Last Sunday afternoon I took some visitors for a quick tour around Auckland. And we drove up to the Michael Joseph Savage memorial above Okahu Bay. And up at the memorial, which has a stunning outlook over the Hauraki Gulf, there were hundreds of tourists. Many of them were taking their photos in front of the engraved image of Savage.

And I thought, and maybe this is an arrogant thought, that perhaps not a single one of those people had the faintest idea who Michael Joseph Savage was, and the role he played in New Zealand’s political history. (People assumed that he was important and therefore wanted their photo to be taken alongside his image. It’s funny that we do that isn’t it – how we want to get our photo taken by someone famous or important. I wonder why we do that?)

But knowing the history helps us understand what is happening now.  So this morning we hear a long description about ancient Jewish worship. And for the writer of Hebrews it is important that we know this detail. That we know this history.

1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. 2 For a tent was constructed, the first one, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the bread of the Presence; this is called the Holy Place.

And the reading continues. About priests and sacrifices and holy place.

When we listen to our Bible reading today, which sounds in many ways for our ears, perhaps a little obscure a little irrelevant, we have to remember that for the people who first read this letter, it wasn’t obscure or irrelevant at all.

They knew exactly what was being said and it was a close and personal thing.  It was about things that mattered to them. It was all about their understanding of God, their place their history, their identity.

You see, if we go way back in the history of the Jewish people, a thousand years before this letter was written, before the first ancient Temple was built,  the  Hebrew people carried with them this portable shrine this portable temple called the tabernacle. It was a very elaborate tent.

I know it can sound strange to us, but the idea of places being designated with a special sense of sacredness and holiness is not such a strange idea to people from many cultures. I do not know if any of you have come to a place that for one reason or another has this sense of being set aside, set aside holy sacred.( In our reformed and Presbyterian theology we do not consecrate things, no object or place is any more sacred than any other objects or place. But I imagine that all of us have had some sense of a place having a feeling of something sacred about it.)

When we read today about the temple and the tabernacle, it is too easy perhaps to think about those things as being strange or primitive. But in fact they were all about taking a relation with God really seriously. They were really serious about the presence of sin and wrong doing in their society.  In part the animal sacrifice was a vivid expression of the consequences of wrong doing in their community. That the worship of idols, that action of envy, hate and fear and jealously, the breaking of God’s law,  would result in the death of the community and their life and faith and journey together. Blood was sacred, these essence of life. So this ancient sacrificial practice held these things in tension. The reality and consequences of sin, and the holiness and presence of God.

When we hear Hebrews speak about Jesus as High Priest who sacrifices his own blood, as this final and complete sacrifice we are not hearing about some machinery of salvation or some shallow ritual.

We find in these words passion, and comfort. Jesus the priest is redeemer, mediator, and saviour. His salvation is once and for all.  Christ's death as High Priest, does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

It’s worth time wrestling with the image of Jesus priest his blood his sacrifice.

Because what we are being told is a central claim in our faith. That there is one single event which restores our relationship to God.   Jesus’ sacrifice, his torture and execution. It is about the reality of suffering and the reality of hope and resurrection.  And our scriptures are saying that both these things are powerful and real.

We come to the cross of Jesus at a personal level and as a community and we say some things are not right.  These are things that are not right in me and things that are not right in the world. We hear too often in New Zealand about the death at home of young children.  The innocent still suffer, God’s wonderful and sacred creation is being defiled.  But as we gaze at the empty cross we say that there is something beyond the guilt, the hopelessness, despair and grief and sadness of these events. Something more powerful, and more empowering than the terrible damage caused by these things.

The image of the blood of Christ, Jesus fully with us, fully with those who suffer, fully there at these places of despair.  And Jesus as the risen saviour. As awful as these things are, they are not the final things;  they are not to provide the stories on which we base our lives.

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

We are told that the living sacrifice of Jesus' blood frees the faithful to serve the living God. It is a wonderful claim.

There are tough lessons in this passage.

In the midst of all the things we spend time worrying about, spending money and time and resources on, all those behaviours, all the rituals and routines, our writer from Hebrews is warning us about our preoccupation with "dead works". In ancient times, constantly offering in the temple  dead animals to fill the need of a sense of separation, my sense of frustration or guilt or failure, for my atonement, is not so different from gathering inanimate objects to fill the need for my self-esteem.  Wealth accumulates and people decay. Preoccupation with dead things does not serve the living God. To rid us of this need to supply dead objects to redeem ourselves, Jesus, the high priest, offers his living blood once for all.

Sometimes I hear that kind of language that speaks about getting things right between "me and Jesus."  A king of contractual arrangement.  If I do this then things will be right.  If I stop this, start this, change this, change that, if I do these things then it’ll all be okay. Or all those formulas that end up being a king of superstition, if I do these things , I will be blessed with wealth and money and if I do bad things God will punish me.     But the whole point in Hebrews is that things are right between you and Jesus, not because of you trying, or me trying to sort out our issues, not because we want God to feel better about us,  but because Jesus made things right, once and for all. This is our starting point. Once and for all. Jesus on the cross said ‘It is complete.’

So let’s hear this once and for all today. That’s where we start from, build from.  The things we do, our commitment to being people of kindness love, justice, our work in proclaiming the Gospel,   come as a result of the actions, the blood of the Great High Priest. He entered, we are told,  once and for all into the Holy Place.  It is the same as hearing ‘on your marks get set go’.  That’s where we start.  It is time to go.  And like an athlete we have to think of the burdens we need to release in order to run this race. Jesus said for ‘my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

These words in Chapter 12. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfected of faith

AMEN