Preached: December 23, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to our Savior is Hebrews 10.
Therefore, when he came into the world, he said, “You did not want sacrifice or offering, but you prepared a body for me. You were not pleased with burnt offerings and sin offerings. Then I said, ‘Here I am. It is written about me in the scroll. I have come to do your will, O God.’”
After first saying, “You do not want and are not pleased with sacrifices, offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings,” which were offered according to law, then he said, “Here I am. I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order for the second to stand. In connection with this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all. (Hebrews 10:5-10).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
A teacher using her own body to shield a young child from a gunman's rampage. What a sacrifice! It may even remind us of Jesus' sacrifice. Now not to take away from the sacrifices made a week ago Friday in Newtown, Connecticut, we do need to note that nothing, nothing compares to the sacrifice Jesus was born to make. Nothing you or I or anyone else could ever do, not even the selfless giving of our own life for an enemy, can compare.
To neglect or diminish the incomparable importance of Christ's sacrifice robs God of his glory and empties Christmas of any eternal meaning. For you see, dear friends, the meaning of Christmas is not about following Jesus' example or following some system of morals. It's not about our love for humanity or hugging your children a little more tightly. It's not about a peaceful earth or a hope for a better tomorrow in this life. Those are the things the world praises at Christmas time.
The reading from Hebrews today reminds us of what Christmas is all about. We don't celebrate the birth of a child who grew up to show us how to love one another by following his example. That's no Savior. Rather we celebrate how God, the eternal Son of the Father, received a human body in a most miraculous, yet lowliest, of ways in order to sacrifice himself to make us holy. Yes, he was born of a virgin to die for us.
Christ's body makes us holy. That's the theme today. How does he do that? He came as the Sacrifice. And he fulfilled God's will.
The writer to the Hebrews quotes the words of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, spoken through David and recorded in Psalm 40 about a thousand years before Jesus' birth. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am -- it is written about me in the scroll -- I have come to do your will, O God’” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NOV84).
You see, in order to avoid persecution many of the first readers of this letter were tempted to go back to old system of sacrifice. Hadn't God himself commanded those sacrifices? If it was good enough for Moses, wasn't it good enough for them? Did they really need Jesus' sacrifice?
But as the quotation makes clear, even in the Old Testament God's plan to save people wasn't to do it through animal sacrifices. Yes, the law had commanded them and they had value. But the value was not that they could make sinners holy. God had commanded them for a two-fold purpose. One was to show how serious sin is. Sin brought death. But the greater purpose was to point ahead to the one, true Sacrifice who alone can make sinners holy. “Not all the blood of beasts On Israel's altars slain Could give the guilty conscience peace Or wash away the stain. But Christ, the heav'nly Lamb, Takes all our sins away, A sacrifice of nobler name And richer blood than they” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal 128:1, 2 “Not All the Blood of Beasts”). Only his sacrifice makes us holy.
But why wasn't God pleased with all those sacrifices and offerings even though he had commanded them? Because they did not come from hearts that were sinless and holy. Rather they were law-driven, driven by duty, by guilt, by worry or fear of punishment. And the holy God can only accept that which is sinless.
How often aren't we law-driven, dear friends? Yes, we outwardly do what God wants, but a part of us does it out of sense of obligation and duty. Or we do good to avoid feeling guilty. Or we worry about the consequences of failing to do the right thing, so we do it even though we don't feel like it. That's all law-driven. None of that can make us holy, no matter how good it looks. For the holy God only accept that which is sinless.
And that, dear friends, is why our obedience or offerings cannot make us holy in God's sight. He only accepts what comes from a holy, sinless heart. But if we had already been holy, we wouldn't need any sacrifice or offering to make us holy. But since we were not holy, nothing we do can make us so. Do you see the dilemma, the catch-22, that hopeless loop we're caught in?
But Jesus Christ breaks into our hopelessness. We hear him speaking to the Father: “Here I am -- it is written about me in the scroll -- I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7 NIV84). So God the Father sent his Son into this world, and Jesus willingly came. “You prepared a body for me” (Hebrews 10:5), Christ says in the text. The Holy Spirit caused that miracle to happen within the body of the virgin Mary. The moment the Holy Spirit caused that new human life to begin within Mary's womb, that new human being, even as an embryo, was the eternal, almighty God, the Son of the Father.
Now God as an embryo does not sound that divine or glorious to us. But dear friends, that's how great his desire to make you holy is. That's the mystery and wonder of Christmas. From the very beginning the holy Scriptures, referred to as the scroll, had foretold it. He would be born of a woman. And his earnest desire to make you holy led him from the virgin womb to the very depths of god-forsaken hell as he hung on the cross. He came as the Sacrifice. Only his body, sacrificed on the cross, makes us holy.
And with that body, laid in a manger, he fulfilled God's will. “Here I am, I have come to do your will” (Hebrews 10:9 NIV84), he declares.
From the beginning to the end of his life on earth, Jesus never sinned. He fulfilled God's holy, perfect will in all that he said and did, in all that he thought and felt. Never once did he stumble, even though Satan severely tempted him in every way. Nothing that Jesus said, did, thought, or felt was law-driven. His flawless obedience flowed from perfect love for his Father. “I have come to do your will.”
What a dishonor to reduce what Jesus did to merely an example for us to follow! Jesus did not need to be conceived and born in order to be an example. He could have come in a much nobler way. Reducing Jesus to just an example diminishes Christmas to just another birthday commemoration like Martin Luther King Jr. Day. You see, if following an example could make us holy, we didn't need Jesus to come at all. God's law gives plenty of examples. The problem is not lack of a good example. The problem is our complete and total inability to live a life that meets God's holy standard.
But dear friends, that's exactly the life Jesus lived. “I have come to do your will,” Jesus says. He met God's holy standard perfectly. He never disobeyed God's will in the least. His words, actions, heart and mind kept it perfectly all the time. Therefore, because he was conceived and born as a human being, because he became flesh and blood with a human body and soul like us except without sin, his perfect obedience counts for you and me. That's how he makes us holy.
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 NIV84). Here is God's saving will. Here is why the Father sent the Son. Here is the meaning of Christmas. Here it is: Jesus was born as a human being with body and soul to serve God in perfect obedience as your Substitute. God counts Jesus holy record as yours. That's how he makes you holy in his record book. He counts Jesus perfect obedience as yours because Jesus was born to take your place. You have his promise on that.
And what's more, as this verse also brings out, he sacrificed his body as the one and only sacrifice, the once-and-for-all sacrifice that washes away the stains of your sin. Without the cross there is no Christmas.
So dear friends, don't look into your heart to find your holiness. Don't look at your actions or your striving to follow his example. Rather look in the manger. There lies your holiness. He came to present you to God as holy and blameless, clothed with his holy life and washed clean with his holy blood. His body makes you holy, for he sacrificed his body to take away your sin. His body makes you holy, for he fulfilled the Father's will as his body gave perfect obedience to count as your record. And sinner though you are, through faith in Jesus you stand holy in God's sight. So leave behind the love of sinning. Don't forfeit the holiness Jesus gained for you at such great cost to him. Rather listen to his word and follow him, believing God's promise. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.