Preached: October 21, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Therefore, holy brothers, sharers in the heavenly calling, fix your minds on the Apostle and High Priest, whom we confess, namely Jesus, as one who is faithful to him who appointed him, even as Moses was faithful in his whole house. For he has been counted worthy of greater glory than Moses, as much as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now while Moses was faithful as a servant in his house to testify about what was to be said, Christ, however, is faithful as a son over his house. We, ourselves, are his house, if we firmly hold on to our confidence and to the hope of which we boast. (Hebrews 3:1-6).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Maybe you have seen this symbol on a T-shirt or bumper sticker. There are a few variations. It uses symbols of different religions and philosophies to spell out “Coexist” The “C” is the crescent moon of Islam. The “o” is the pentacle of Wicca and neo-paganism. The “e” is from the formula “e=mc2” representing science, modernism, humanism, even atheism. The “x” is the star of David for Judaism. The dot on the “i” is the Wheel of Dharma for Buddhism, which could also bring to mind Hinduism. The “s” is the yin and yang for Confucianism, Taoism and other Far Eastern philosophies. And final the cross as the “t.”
At one level I can agree that we should coexist with people of other religions. We should not begin a war or start crusades or have jihad just because someone has a different faith. That's not the way to spread God's kingdom. If they attack our country, that's a different story, but even that kind of war should not be because of their religion but because of the actions and threatened actions. Likewise, we shouldn't treat others as second class citizens or as a lower caste or keep them from advancing in society just because their views of the afterlife differ from ours.
But the problem is as soon as I say that Jesus is the only Savior and only those who know him in true faith will be saved, then I'm accused of no longer coexisting peacefully. For now I've elevated Jesus above all other religions. But so be it. Only Jesus brings a right relationship with God. Only Jesus brings salvation and eternal life. Only Jesus has paid for all the sins of the world so that sinners are freely justified before God by grace alone and have peace only through faith in Jesus alone. And so only those who believe in Jesus, the real Jesus of the Bible, who trust him as their only Redeemer, who listen to his words, who follow him as their God and Savior -- only those who know him in such faith will be saved. That's how different Jesus is, different from all the other religious leaders and teachings.
Faithfully confess, dear Christians, how different Jesus is. Do so, even as this world pressures you to coexist. Yes, no matter what the cost or loss, no matter what the ridicule or insult, faithfully confess how different Jesus is. That's the theme today. Confess that he alone is the Apostle and High Priest -- part one. Confess that we are his house if we hold on to him -- part two. Faithfully confess how different Jesus is.
The first readers of this letter to the Hebrews were suffering persecution for following Jesus. Many of them had been followers of Judaism before. Since God had spoken through Moses to the Jews, couldn't they set Jesus aside and go back to their old ways? Then the Romans wouldn't persecute them.
The divinely inspired writer, though, holds before them how different Jesus is. He reminds them that going back to their old ways would lose all that Jesus had won for them.
In the first two chapters he has shown from the Old Testament Scriptures that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, greater than all the angels. Yet he became our brother, flesh and blood like us but without sin. He became our brother to rescue us from death's slavery by his own suffering and death in our place.
The heavenly Father had called them to faith in the Son. Through faith in Jesus they were members of God's family, holy in his sight, washed clean in Jesus' blood. The writer urges them to remain faithful to Jesus by focusing their hearts and minds on how faithful Jesus was in the work the Father had appointed him to do -- the work of the Apostle and High Priest. “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him” (Hebrews 3:1, 2 NIV84). Jesus alone is the Apostle and High Priest.
What do you think of when you hear the word “apostle”? My first thoughts turn to the disciples, like Peter, James, and John, whom Jesus personally sent out proclaim his message, to preach the Gospel. Now, if Jesus sent them out as apostles, who sent out Jesus as the Apostle? The Father, of course. On Easter evening Jesus said to the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21 NIV84). You could say that Jesus is the original apostle, the source, the archetype through whom all the others received their apostleship. For you see only Jesus has the message that makes the true God known. Only through Jesus can you or I or anyone else know God. The Scriptures declare, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV84). Do you see how exclusive true Christianity is? Only Jesus can reveal the true God. All the other religions and philosophies run after idols. No wonder they accuse us of not coexisting well with their beliefs.
But Jesus is not only the Apostle who brings the message. He, himself, is the message. Think of how the Gospel of John begins by calling Jesus the Word. Words both bring a message and they are the message. So Jesus is not only sent out on the mission to bring the Good News as the Apostle but he's also sent out on the mission to be the Good News as the High Priest. How different from any other religious leader whether they be Buddha, Mohamed, Joseph Smith, or even Moses. They just claim to convey a message from God. But Jesus is the message. He is the High Priest.
Do you remember what the high priests did in the Old Testament? They offered sacrifices. They slaughtered the animals, poured out the blood, and burnt some of the fat and flesh on the altar. But all the blood of beasts, all the smoke and carcasses couldn't pay for sins by themselves.
Jesus alone, as the Great High Priest, offered the one, complete sacrifice that pays for your sins, for my sins, for the sins Adam and Eve, for sins of the wicked world in Noah's day, for the sins of Pharaoh at the time of Moses, for the sins of Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, and Judas, for the sins of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, for the sins of that last baby born at the end of this age. Or going back to these symbols, he paid for all the sins of the Muslims, the pagans, the atheists, the Jews, the Buddhists and Hindus, the followers of Far Eastern religions, and the Christians.
What sacrifice did he offer that alone pay for all the sins of the entire world, past present, and future? Himself. Not the blood of beasts but his own blood, the blood of God. He, the ever-living Son of the Father, sacrificed himself on the cross and died. What a mystery! Think of the first hymn we sang today. “Jesus, my great High Priest, Offered his blood and died; My guilty conscience seek No sacrifice beside.” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Jesus, My Great High Priest” 359:1)
Faithfully confess how different Jesus is. No one else could make the Father known, except Jesus, our Apostle. No one else could offer the sacrifice for our sins, except Jesus, our High Priest.
What a great Apostle and High Priest Jesus is! But his work only benefits you and me if we keep on looking to him in faith. We are part of his house only if we hold on to him, which brings us to part two.
As I mentioned, the first readers wanted to turn away from Jesus and go back to Moses. Now there was nothing wrong with Moses. As the text makes clear, Moses faithfully served in God's house. He faithfully testified to the message that God would give him. But that message wasn't about following him, but about following Jesus. In John 5, Jesus points this out by saying, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (John 5:46 NIV84).
This makes Moses different than all the teachers or leaders in all the other religions. It even makes him different than the Moses claimed by Judaism today. The historical, real Moses, pointed to Jesus. Moses was faithful as a servant in the house, for he believed in Jesus as his God who had built the house. “Jesus has been found worthy of great honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:3, 4 NIV84). Moses believed in Jesus as his God, who created all things and who brought his people together into his household and family. And Moses believed in Jesus as the Son who is over the house. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God's house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house” (Hebrews 3:5, 6 NIV84).
So turning away from Jesus would not really be going back to Moses. Rather it would be rebelling against Moses just as the Israelites had done in the desert. To turn away from Jesus, to imagine that he is just one of many ways that coexist to bring different kinds of people closer to God rejects all that Jesus has won for us. It abandons his house for a shack of our own contrivance.
“And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (Hebrews 3:6 NIV84). The heavenly father, has called you, dear Christian, into his family. He has brought that heavenly calling to you through water and word of Baptism, in which you were reborn into his household. He has washed you clean so that you are counted holy in his sight. You are among the holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, whom this text addresses.
We are his house if, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which he boast. On the other hand, if you turn away from your baptismal faith, if you choose a lifestyle ignoring God's holy will revealed in his commandments, if you set your own standards of right and wrong or simply follow what feels good, if you neglect his word and sacrament, then you are not faithful. Then you are not his house or family anymore. Then you are lost, just like all the followers of these other religions are lost.
May that never be! Rather, dear friend, hold on to Jesus. Firmly hold on to him with that courage that finds your confidence in his promises alone, that courage that denies self saying no to sin and following him no matter what the cost, that courage that takes up our cross faithfully confessing how different Jesus is.
Hold on to Jesus. Firmly hold on to that hope that will not prove false, that hope that is built on Jesus' blood and righteousness alone, that hope that eagerly anticipates the glory of heaven no matter how dark or bright your earthly days may be.
Faithfully confess your hope in Jesus, boasting of your Savior, not ashamed that you follow the Crucified, not ashamed if the world labels you as intolerant or closed minded for saying that only Jesus saves. Boast not in your faith's strength or knowledge, not in your soul's spirituality or selflessness, not in your gifts or insights. Boast in Christ, in what he has done. “Your works, not mine, O Christ, Speak gladness to this heart. They tell me all is done; They bid my fear depart. To whom but you, who can alone For sin atone, Lord, shall I flee?” (Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal, “Your Works, Not Mine, O Christ” 401:1) Faithfully confess how different Jesus is.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.