Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Epistle, which was read earlier.
Forgiveness. It is a wonderful thing to receive. We can’t get enough of forgiveness. It just makes us feel better to know that we are forgiven. Now, granting to someone else forgiveness, well, that’s another story. That one is harder to do. However, regardless of the cost, we are called to forgive others. That’s what we pray: “and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Forgiveness was the role of the priest. He would make the sacrifices on behalf of the people all in order to forgive them of their sins. These sacrifices forgave sins, but not forever. Atonement would be needed in the future in order to have your sins forgiven again. The people knew that. The priest knew that. They knew exactly what was necessary and would do what was necessary in order to be forgiven, time and time again. Daily, the priest would perform the same sacrifices. He would offer a one-year-old unblemished male lamb, along with a grain offering of 1/10 ephah of fine flour mixed with 1/4 hin of olive oil, plus a drink offering of 1/4 hin of wine. Twice a day, the priest stood there, day after day, with the same sacrifices. What clearer indication could there be that such sacrifices could never take away sins?
But now comes a new Priest onto the scene. His name is Jesus. He is not like the priests of old, for He is our Great High Priest. While the sacrifices of the priests of old would need to be repeated, the singular sacrifice of Jesus would not need to be repeated. The writer to the Hebrews says in our text, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” By Jesus, He has perfected man. This is man being brought to the completeness that God had in mind for him. Peace and pardon, harmony and heaven were God’s goal for man. “Those who are being sanctified,” that is, all believers, have been brought to this blessed goal of forgiveness, of salvation, because of Jesus.
If Jesus isn’t enough to testify of His work, the Holy Spirit also testifies to what He does. Quoted from Jeremiah 31, the writer showcases what happens in this new covenant of God: “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Here is what you receive: forgiveness. This forgiveness is not like forgiveness granted by the priest that is granted following each sacrifice. This forgiveness is granted because of Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice of Himself. Notice what is said: “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Once sin has been forgiven, no one has the right to demand additional sacrifices and no one can offer any sacrifice for sin either.
When God has totally sent away our sins, when He has forgiven and forgotten them because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, why talk any more about them or look for additional sacrifice for sin? Instead, the talk should be about hearts that are rejoicing for what He has done, with grateful praises for what we could not do ourselves. That is what the writer to the Hebrews wants to emphasize to the Church. We need not focus on our sin but rather rejoice in our forgiveness.
As we turn our attention to the end of the Church Year, we are ever reminded of the return of Christ and His final judgment. Instead of focusing on what we have done and what we have left undone, we should focus on what has been done for us and what that means for us. This New Covenant established for us by Jesus Christ is for all nations. As God has promised to remember ours sins no more, this gracious attitude of God the Father toward us is now written on our hearts. We are His people who know Him, our iniquities are forgiven, and our sins are remembered no more. In Holy Baptism, we are His sons who are presented to the Lord “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
We already know that Jesus was the great sacrifice. Now we see Him as the great High Priest, who made the sacrifice. He offered Himself. What encouragement we have because of Christ’s sacrifice and offering. Because of Christ, “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus.” We are able to enter the holiness that is heaven. This was something that we could not do because of our sin, but through Christ, all sin that we have inherited from our first parents and which we have committed has been forgiven and now we are able to enter heaven, the dwelling place of God. And notice what allows us to enter: “the blood of Jesus.” It isn’t what we do; it isn’t what we earn. It is only what Jesus does for us that we can enter heaven and receive that wonderful gift of everlasting life; there is no other way.
Looking at what Jesus did, He opened heaven to us. This indicates that heaven was closed to us but is no longer. It was closed because of man’s sin, closed to you and me. The sacrifices of old gave glimpses into heaven but were not enough to forever forgive the sins of the people. But now, heaven stands opened; opened by Jesus with His death on the cross.
As a closing to this portion of his letter, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” These are not just some trite or empty words that he speaks. Nothing strengthens our hope for heaven more than the fact of God’s faithfulness. How can God lie or change His mind? He promised the eternal crown of glory, and He will place it on our heads. To such a hope we are to hold to without wavering, holding it near and dear as a promise of God – and we know that if God makes a promise, He keeps His promise.
We spur one another on in the faith that has been granted to us by the Holy Spirit, coming together as the body of Christ centered on His Word and His promises of forgiveness and eternal life. From the heart filled with love, God-directed actions will flow from faith. Those who neglect or avoid coming together with other Christians remove themselves from the influence of those who can spur them on. This may explain why some people stay away from assembling together. They do not want to be spurred on to action. Just as a body needs food to stay alive, we too need the heavenly food which feeds us: Christ’s body and blood and His Word. When we join with fellow Christians, we continue to be spurred on to remain faithful to the Word of God, both in worship and in Bible study, to remain faithful of our need for the continued assurance of the forgiveness of our sins proclaimed when we confess our sins and that sweet absolution knowing that our sins are forgiven.
The focal point that the writer to the Hebrews is centering on for the Hebrew Christians and the message that resounds today is the need to remember our Lord’s death. We are to draw near to the death of Jesus, because in the death of Jesus, we are reminded of the words which Paul wrote to the Romans, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” We are to hold on to the death of Jesus, because His death gave to all who believe everlasting life. Finally, by remembering Christ’s death, we consider others. For believers, that means that we continue the Great Commission, by making disciples, by sharing the Good News of the Gospel to others. It also means that we extend care and compassion for our neighbor, both in their needs of body and soul.
We stand to lose more when we absent ourselves from worship, from the Word and Sacraments and when we absent ourselves from other Christians. In those times when we lose our faith, we should not fear, because our heavenly Father has given us His Son who promises that “[He] will be you always, to the end of the age.” In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.