Pentecost 15–“Sacrifices” (Hebrews 13:1-17)

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.

What do you think of when you hear the word sacrifice? It might be going without something in order to provide for your children. It might be a person willing to give their own life so that another person may remain alive. It might mean losing a battle in order to win the war. In either case, it means putting the needs of another ahead of your own.

When we look at what a sacrifice was in biblical times, it often meant the giving of an animal or a grain offering. There were sacrifices made to give thanks, sacrifices for peace, sacrifices that went along with prayers, and especially sacrifices to take away sin and guilt. In fact, the most important day in all of Jewish life was a day of sacrifice for sin and guilt called the Day of Atonement. On that day, a person would take a goat and it would be sacrificed and its blood taken into the Holy of Holies in the temple. It was offered to God as a way to atone for, make up for, or bring forgiveness for the people’s sins. This meant a lot of goats being sacrificed with a lot of bloodshed. Finally, the carcass of the goat was burned outside of the city. Lots of blood, lots of fire, lots of smoke. All of this was done as a sacrifice in order to atone for sins.

Sacrifice continued throughout the New Testament era as well. Finally, the day came when a sacrifice was made that would put to end all other sacrifices. That day was Good Friday. The altar was made of wood in the form of a cross. There was no animal brought forward to be sacrificed, but rather it was Jesus Christ Himself that was brought forward for the sacrifice. The blood that was shed was not that of a goat, but rather that of a Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Everything about this sacrifice was the same with regards to other sacrifices, but at the same time everything was different. While blood was shed, it was not the blood of an animal, but rather the blood of man. Instead of the carcass of the offering being burnt, it was laid in a tomb. Instead of having a need to repeat a sacrifice for sins, this sacrifice was intended to be once for all time. No other sacrifice would be necessary, nor would any sacrifice be able to compare to the sacrifice that was made by Jesus Christ.

The sacrifice of Jesus was done to take away the sins of the world. By His blood, unlike the gallons of animal blood shed over the years, people are made holy. Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary’s cross did what those repeated animal sacrifices could never do. It brought people out of a sinful world and into God’s holy family. There, on the altar of the cross, His blood was shed so we would be clean in the eyes of God. If ever there was a sacrifice to be made, this is it. This sacrifice makes all of the sacrifices in the Old Testament mean anything.

The time for sacrificing is not over. As our text says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God….” We continue to make sacrifices to our God – sacrifices of praise with our lips and sacrifices of doing good for our neighbor – praises which our God commands.

Today you have come to make sacrifices. You come and bring sacrifice with your voice as you sing, confess your sins, confess your faith in the Creed, and pray. When you come to the Lord’s Table, you partake in the great sacrifice of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.

As we sacrifice for our neighbor, the author of Hebrews gives us a list of good works we do, ways to sacrifice ourselves for the need of our neighbor. The entire first half of our text is all about sacrifice for our neighbor. The author writes, Let brotherly love continue….Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers….Remember those who are in prison…Let marriage be held in honor among all….” All of these show a sacrifice of love to our neighbor. All of these examples highlight faith in action and love at work. As the family of Christ, we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. We give of ourselves sacrificially for the sake of others, or we should do so.

Everything we do flows from the love that has been shown to us by Christ Jesus. Our Lord placed the needs of the world above His very own. Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” On Maundy Thursday, as Jesus was gathered with His disciples, He told them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”

A question that we need to ask ourselves is this: Do we need the reminder? It should be common sense to love our neighbor, to sacrifice of ourselves in order to strengthen and support our neighbor. But we don’t want to sacrifice ourselves for our neighbor, do we? If we take care of everyone else, then who is going to take of Number 1? If you need help with the answer, then you need look no further than the cross of Christ. The entire life of Christ was a sacrifice for His neighbor. He wasn’t concerned with Himself, but rather was entirely concerned with His neighbor. He wanted to make sure the needs of all were met. The greatest need of a person would be the forgiveness of their sins and Jesus did all that was necessary to achieve that for all people. He went to the cross, forsaking His own needs, so that His neighbor, so that you, would receive the forgiveness of sins.

The author makes special mention to those who are prison. What a perfect illustration for us, don’t you think? It describes exactly who we are – prisoners, for we are prisoners in our sin. Instead of rotting away in our prison of sin, you and I were shown mercy by Jesus Christ, the One who comes to preach the Gospel to the spirits in prison. We who were captive in sin have received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

While it is easier to shut our eyes and ears to those in need, and may even appear safer to do so, our Lord encourages us to be brave enough to stand up for Christian principles and support our weaker brother in their time of need. What greater example could we have than that of Jesus doing just that, putting the needs of others ahead of His own. Instead of living a life in the glory of God the Father for eternity, Jesus puts on humanity in order to restore God’s fallen creation to its intended status of being created in the image of God, that is, holy and perfect, made so by the blood of the Lamb.

For our Lord, it is all about sacrifices. It’s about Jesus making the once-for-all sacrifice for us upon the cross of Calvary, forever putting an end to temporary sacrifices of forgiveness, winning for us forgiveness that can come only from Him. Now that Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice has made us holy, we live lives of sacrifice to God in praise of what has been done for us. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.