The Seventh Sunday After Trinity August 3, 2003
30, 445, 156, 376
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions under the first covenant, that those who are called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
In the name of Jesus, our Heavenly Mediator, dear fellow redeemed:
Do you want whiter whites and brighter colors when you wash? There a number of laundry detergents that claim that they can grant this wish. Do you want a dishwashing detergent that cuts through the grease, but is gentle on your hands? Again, you’ll find a large variety of products guaranteeing this as well. Need to get motor oil and grime off your hands? You’ll have your pick there too.
Yet, there is no product currently produced, nor will there ever be, that can remove a stain that occurs on the inside of you. Your soul has been stained with sin—a damning sight in God’s eyes. That stain cannot be removed except by the cleansing blood of Christ. This is what we wish to consider in today’s meditation as the Spirit leads us to Christ who came to this earth to clean us with a very costly stain remover. We will consider that I. Sin stains the soul; and II. Only the blood of Christ has the power to cleanse a soul.
As you study the letter to the Hebrews you will come across a number of Old Testament references. This book of the Bible played an important role in the early Christian Church as it led New Testament Jews to understand how Christ was the fulfillment of the Old Testament religious laws and ceremonies. It is very helpful in that respect for us too. Although we are not under the laws for the Old Testament Sabbath, sacrifices, and feasts, the book of Hebrews helps us to understand the deeper meaning of the Old Testament laws.
The Law was written down for the children of Israel at Mount Sinai. Included were laws governing them as a people, laws establishing their religious ceremonies, and also the Ten Commandments. Up until that time—thousands of years from Adam to Moses—there was no Law written down. Yet that does not mean that God’s will was not present. When Cain murdered Abel, everybody knew this was wrong. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were cited for their perversity. People had a grasp of what was right and wrong.
When God created Adam and Eve in His image, He wrote the Law in their hearts. They had a perfect knowledge of right and wrong. However, when sin entered the world and the image of God was lost, so too was this perfect knowledge of God’s will. However, a rough knowledge of God’s law remains. Everyone is born with a partial knowledge of the Law of God. God has also given us consciences which will either accuse or excuse an action. In other words, we will feel guilty when we do something or it won’t bother us. The voice of our conscience may not always be 100% correct in evaluating right and wrong because it begins with the incomplete knowledge of God’s law, it can be wrongly trained, and it can be dulled by continued sinning.
The true touchstone for what is right and wrong is the Law of God as He has recorded it in the Scriptures. When we step over the line that God has drawn there is true guilt, not just guilt that one may feel inside. Guilt affects your status before the LORD God Almighty.
Love of God and love of neighbor is the essence of God’s will. We have consistently trampled over God’s will by putting our thoughts, wants, and desires ahead of God. These transgressions against God stain the soul. This is why our text speaks about a cleansing that is needed if we are to be right with God.
God put the Old Testament religious regulations in place not only to separate the Israelites from their heathen neighbors, but also to demonstrate to them that there needs to be a cleansing from sin and a payment for sin. At various times in the Old Testament worship ceremonial washings had to be done. The same is true when God appeared before the Israelites on Mt. Sinai. It was a reminder of their sin and the need to be clean and pure before the most holy God.
When it came to a payment for sin the sacrifices always involved blood. They even had blood sprinkled on them. This was a necessary reminder to the people of their sin and the necessity to remove it. Our text speaks of this in verse 13, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean sanctifies the flesh…” But these sacrifices were only for the cleansing of the flesh, to be ceremonially clean. In the next chapter of Hebrews we are told, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The true forgiveness of sins came in knowing that the bloody sacrifices for sin were pointing ahead to the Messiah.
The High Priest served as the mediator between the people and God. The people saw the High Priest making sacrifices on their behalf, and on the great Day of Atonement entering into their worship tent (the Tabernacle). They knew that he was entering the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant was. They knew he was entering the presence of God and that he would there make the payment for their sin with the blood of a spotless animal. God established these ceremonies so that the people would know very well that sin’s debt needed to be paid—that the unclean had to be made clean to be right with Him.
These pictures from the Old Testament certainly apply to the reality of our situation as well. Our souls are stained with sin. This has been true since the day of our birth. We are in need of spiritual cleansing.
As we have said, the bloody sacrifices were a picture of what was to be fulfilled in Christ. Jesus was able to enter the Most Holy Place, not because He carried the blood of a goat, but by virtue of His own blood. He didn’t go into this tabernacle or the temple, but He entered “the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” He went to heaven itself and dealt with God directly. He is the fulfillment of the office of the High Priest and of the sacrifice.
He “offered Himself without spot to God” and in so doing purged your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. What all the blood of beasts that were killed year after year could not do, Jesus did on Good Friday. He offered Himself once for all. That was sufficient payment for sins.
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. We often think of perfection based on a person’s physical appearance. That’s the way our society thinks. Jesus was not known for His appearance. His perfection was on the inside. His heart was right with God and He always did what God desired. He is true God and became true man to be our Savior. Our Savior laid down His life and became the redeeming sacrifice for sinful mankind.
Jesus’ blood shed on the cross is how our souls are cleansed. Isaiah puts it this way, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). You don’t have to worry about your sins from the past because they are gone. You now appear before God in righteousness and holiness. Where sin once stood before you and God, Christ now stands as the Mediator. The curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the temple was torn in two when Christ died. What a vivid picture of the access we have to God through Jesus. This access is possible because of the removal of sin.
There was a price, a tremendous price, paid for sin. The very Son of God died that sin could be removed, so that our consciences could be purged, and that we could serve the living God. That stain remover cannot be duplicated, but thank God that you are aware of it! There is a way to get rid of sin, not by what we have done, not with any sort of sacrifices that we have made, but through the spotless Lamb of God.
I recall reading the Shakespeare play MacBeth in High School. I can’t remember all the details except that Lady MacBeth was involved in a murder. In a dream, feeling the weight of guilt, she sees blood on her hands. Try as she may she cannot remove the spot that she sees. As hard as we try, we cannot remove the stain of our sin. Pontius Pilate ceremoniously washed his hands and in this way thought he had absolved himself of the death of Jesus. The true guilt of sin is not so easily removed.
The cleansing from sin takes place from the inside out. It does not work in reverse. In other words, just as all the religious ceremonies and sacrifices and cleansings could not take away sin, neither can our external actions cleanse us.
Our church bears some resemblance to Jewish worship. We have an altar. We face the altar (even the pastor) when we’re talking to God. When we hear His Word it comes from the altar toward you. On the altar we place our sacrifices, not bloody animals, but our offerings. The offerings we bring to God are not payment for sin. They can’t even come close to paying for them. Rather they are fruits of our faith. They are expressions of gratitude for what God has done for us. Because we have been made clean on the inside this will be reflected on what we do with the rest of our bodies—our hearts, hands, and mouths.
Your children may not always come to the table with clean hands (some of us adults may not either), but thanks be to God that you can approach Him with a clean heart. We pray for this following each sermon when we sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O, God, and renew a right spirit within me.” We’ll close today with a few verses from Psalm 51 that immediately precede what we sing in the offertory: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities” (Psalm 51:8-9).
Rejoice in the cleansing of your soul! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.