Text: Hebrews 10:19-25
Preached at St. John Lutheran Church, Seward, NE on June 27, 2019 for the Higher Things Concordia Conference
You’re all looking rather dirty this morning, dare I even say it, disgusting, at least, that’s how we look to one another on account of our sinful nature. Try as you might, you wake up and sin. You go throughout the day and you sin. You go to bed at night, and that’s right, you sin. If there’s one thing we’re very good at, it’s sinning. I think we can agree that we have that perfected to a science! But the one thing we’re not good at, the one thing that we are incapable of, is forgiveness of those sins. Try as you might, whatever you attempt to do in your life, whether it be works or multi-step programs or whatever the case may be, you cannot earn your own forgiveness. It is impossible for you to do so, and yet we try so hard to do just that, earn our own forgiveness. And because we cannot earn our forgiveness, something must be done in order for us to be forgiven.
But fortunately for you and for me, that’s not how God our Heavenly Father sees us. He doesn’t see us as the walking and talking bags of sin that we are. No, He sees something, someone, completely different. He sees Jesus. He sees Jesus because His shed blood from Calvary’s cross runs over you. You have been baptized into His name, and that means His name is a part of you now. Jesus has done battle against sin, death, and the devil for you, in order to redeem you, to buy you back from the clutches of Satan. The Holy Spirit has given you a gift called faith, a faith that makes it possible for you to believe all of this that God has done for all of creation, including you.
You might think that this is one of those “duh” moments, that “we already know that, Pastor” moments. But do you? Is it Christ who has forgiven you all of your sins or do you try to do your work and help Jesus out to forgive your sins? It sounds pretty silly that there is anything that you can do to “help out” Jesus to forgive your sins, but if that were not the case, then why would the author of Hebrews make it clear that it is Christ and Christ alone who forgives sins for all time? It’s because you need to know that you can’t save yourself; that your salvation must come from outside of you.
Because of Christ’s sacrifice on your behalf, you can do as the writer of Hebrews says: “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith….” How are you able to do that? How is anyone able to do that? Even when wearing my shiniest clerical collar, I can’t do that. And neither can your pastor. And neither can you, at least, not on your own. So how is it done?
It is done outside of you. It has to be done outside of you. Your sinfulness keeps you from drawing near to God because we, by our sinful nature, are enemies of God. St. Paul tells us as much in Romans 5: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”
That’s us — sinners, enemies of God. But that’s no longer the case. As we see in our reading from Hebrews: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus….” It is by the blood of Jesus that we can enter the holy places, and what better holy place can there be than in heaven, standing before the presence of God the Father Almighty.
Through the flesh of Jesus, through His broken body and shed blood, you receive the forgiveness of your sins; you are made right with God once again. No, that’s not the correct word. You are not made right with God, you are made perfect and holy and blameless and without sin. Your great High Priest Jesus has made the sacrifice on your behalf, the sacrifice that you could not make. He sacrificed Himself, Christ the victim, Christ the priest. He dies for you. He rises for you.
So after hearing what Christ has done for us, what is left for us to do? Can we do anything? Yes, we can do something: “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. 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. Hold fast the confession of our hope. What is our hope in? Do not dare say yourself, because there is no hope in you, there can never be hope in you. Your hope can only be in Jesus, for it is Jesus who died for you. It is Jesus’ shed blood that covers you.
While there is a lot packed into these verses, there is one point often overlooked today by many: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” What Christ has earned for us upon Calvary’s cross is indeed a free gift. But that free gift isn’t found just anywhere; it is found where God has said His means of grace are to be found — gathered around Word and Sacrament, for here God comes to us with His blood-bought forgiveness of sins. We stand to lose much when we absent ourselves from God’s gifts, forsaking His commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” And so, we gather around His Word, His font, His Table, to receive the gifts which Christ our Lord has won for us. We are encouraged and we encourage one another in Christ our Lord, for He and He alone has won for us the forgiveness of our sins. In the name of Jesus, amen.