Our Reformation Roots
Text: Hebrews 7:23-28
Title: Our Reformation Roots
Thesis: We can live by faith, since God has sent Jesus Christ to be our eternal, high priest.
Time: Reformation Sunday, B
I’ve noticed how advertisers often promote their products by putting on the product labels, “New and improved.” Last night, I went through our cabinets and found a few examples of what I mean. For example, here’s a bottle of laundry detergent. It says here at the top “New!” I’m not sure how long laundry detergent has been around, but here’s one claiming to be new, it is great for removing dirt! What a concept, that they would make a new detergent that is great on dirt. Here’s another one, a can of deodorant. It also at the top says new. What’s new is that it is a clear gel. I’m not sure what difference it makes, but at least it’s new and improved.
We could call the book of Hebrews the “New and Improved” book of the Bible. Because every time some religious concept or religious person is mentioned in Hebrews, there is a comparison made to something or someone religious that is better, new and improved.
That’s the case in Hebrews 7 this morning. First, there is the mention of the priesthood. They are the ones according to Jewish law who conduct the sacrifices on behalf of God’s people. There is no blame about the priests in Hebrews 7, but the problem with the priests are one, that priests die and new ones have to be put in their place. And secondly, every day the priests have to offer sacrifices even on their own behalf as they, too, sin. It’s not a perfect system, as the priests die and also sin. For example, in 1 Samuel, two of the priests take more than their fair share of the offerings people bring to the temple as their giving to God.
And this is where Hebrew shines, Hebrews tells us that there is now a new and improved priesthood. In this new priesthood, the priest never dies, imagine that a priest who lives forever. That would do wonders in our appointment system as Methodists. And also, in this new and improved priesthood the priest never sins, and therefore has no need to offer sacrifices on his own behalf. Can you guess who this new priest is? Hebrews 7:24, “but Jesus, who continues forever, holds the priesthood permanently and so is able for all time to save those who approach God through Jesus, who always lives to make intercession for them.”
Just as detergent may do a better job at removing tough stains, or deodorant might cover up body odor better, what Jesus does as our eternal, sinless priest is makes possible the removal of all our sins, no matter how messy or offensive the sin. A woman asked her co-worker, “What is it like to be a Christian?” Her friend replied, “It is like a pumpkin. God picks you from the patch, brings you in and washes all the dirt off of you. Then he cuts off the top and scraps out all the yucky stuff. He removes the seed of doubt, hate, greet, etc. . . He then carves you a new smiling face and puts his light inside of you to shine for all the world to see.” And that is why Jesus has come, this is why Jesus is our high priest, so that we can have sin removed from our lives, all the yucky, messy stuff that is not necessary. God’s light begins to shine through us as we have faith that Christ is our high priest.
Before Christ, the problem with the old system, wasn’t just that priests themselves had sin or died, there were all kinds of barriers that kept people from offering sacrifices and receiving God’s forgiveness, and living in relationship with God. Sometimes, people had to travel great distances to get to a place to offer sacrifices, or they did not have the right sacrifice to give, or they confused the giving of a sacrifice as enough to receive God’s forgiveness without changing their sinful ways. For this reason, we find down a little further in Romans 8:6-7, “But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.”
This is the promise of the new and improved covenant, that Christ is our new high priest, God’s forgiveness of sin is granted to us simply through faith. No longer do we offer sacrifices, or give things, or try to be better people, or think by doing enough good works God will forgive us our sins. No in the new covenant, the way is made clear that through faith that Christ is our high priest we are forgiven of sin and invited into relationship with God. Nothing more is needed. For Christ has become the sacrifice offered, as we said in Romans 7:27, “Jesus did this once for all by offering his own life.” Christ is the once-for-all sacrifice so that no more sacrifices need be offered, and through faith that Christ has done this, trusting that Christ has done this for us, Christ becomes our high priest.
Really, the only thing that keeps us from God’s forgiveness and love now is our own pride or disbelief. The story is told of a Captain Webb, promoted as a captain in the British navy aboard the H.M.S. Switha. He shares his story of his new assignment. One of their first assignments was to go out and check the anchors that held the buoys in place, and the only way to do this was to send down a deep-sea diver. When they arrived at their first checkpoint, the first mate told Don Webb that his predecessor, their beloved former captain, always liked to go down first. Would he, as their new captain, like that privilege? Now, Don Webb had never done any deep-sea diving. He didn’t know the first thing about it. But unable to swallow his pride, unable to admit his inadequacy, unable to confess his need for help, Don Webb (as many of us would have done), pridefully blurted out, “Of course I want to go down first –wouldn’t have it any other way!” at this point in the story, Don Webb goes into a description of putting on that diving suit for the first time –scared to death, but acting confident –the leaded shoes, the heavy suit, the thick gloves, the locking on of the helmet, the closing of the window at the face of the helmet . . . the fear, the unfamiliar, eerie sounds, the claustrophobia, the queasiness. Next, he gives a graphic description of jumping overboard and slowly sinking down to the ocean floor. At first, the water is beautiful, blue and clear, then greenish, then gray, and finally black. Then he tells of hitting bottom –the heavy feet sinking deep into the mud, feeling so awkward –and it dawns on him that he doesn’t know how to walk down there. There must be a science to this he doesn’t know. He panics and falls forward, face down in the mud –and as he falls he loses his lifeline! He remembers now that his crew had said to him earlier, as they handed him that lifeline, “Whatever you do Cap’n, don’t let go of this. If you need help, just give her a tug!” now, Don Webb describes his plight. He has lost his lifeline. He is lying face down in the mud on the ocean floor, stuck and unable to move, thinking, “This is it! This is how it all ends.” As he lies there, waiting to die, he thinks, “O my arrogant pride, how stupid of me!” after several minutes, which seems like an eternity, Don Webb feels a gentle touch on his shoulder. Help has come from above! The crew sensed that he had lost his lifeline and was in trouble. So one of the men, an experienced diver, had come down to save him –to pick him up, to unstick him from the mud, to give back his lifeline, to show him how to walk and survive, how to survive on the ocean floor.
Christ has come so that we can survive. Not only can we survive, but we can thrive as Christ promises to remove our sins. So today, may nothing separate us from God’s love as Christ is our great high priest.
 James W. Moore, Is There Life After Stress? (Nashville: Dimensions for Living, 1999), 107-108.