Christmas, 2020 Part 3: Christ, the Great High Priest
Christmas, 2020 • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 46:00
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Christmas, 2020, Part 3: Christ, the Great High Priest Christmastime is here! Remember the show, "A Charlie Brown Christmas"? Who does not remember the opening scene? Charlie Brown and his friends ice skating on a frozen pond. And the song begins. "Christmastime is here. Happiness and cheer. Fun for all that children call their favorite time of year. Snowflakes in the air--unless you're south of the equator (my little insert there). Carols everywhere. Olden times and ancient rhymes of love and dreams to share." Switch scenes. Charlie Brown pours out his tale of woe to Linus: "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that but I'm still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed." Linus says, "Charlie Brown. You're the only person I know that can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy's right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you're the Charlie Browniest." And so begins another dose of the "feel good" rendition of Christmas in our culture. But there is some redeeming value of "A Charlie Brown Christmas", when Linus quotes Luke 2, where the angel makes the announcement to the shepherds that a Savior, Christ, the Lord, is born. I suppose if we left it like that, we could go back to our gift giving. Some of us getting together for Christmas-gotta watch out for covid, you know! And hopefully we will share some happy experiences and make happy memories. Then we put away the nativity scenes, take down the tree, and wait til next year as it is burned into our cultural memory: "A savior is born!" As we know, especially this year at Grace United, there is far more to Christmas than Jesus' birth. During this Christmas season, we are glancing at his birth and gazing upon who Jesus was before he was born, and who and what he is doing now. Have you ever wondered what Jesus is doing right now? Many of us know the answer: ruling and reigning as the One at the right hand of the Father. And one day, King Jesus will return to earth and claim his throne over all nations. He is King--King of kings and Lord of lords. What else is he doing right now? Faithfully occupying his role as High Priest. Theologians tell us that Jesus sits in 3 chairs--more formally described as 3 offices: Prophet, Priest and King. As prophet, he tells Divine truth. Again, as King, he rules and reigns. But what is the office of High Priest about? This is what we are going to talk about today. Many of us are familiar with the term "priest," and much of what comes to mind is horrific. Think Catholic priests who have taken many liberties with kids. Jesus had some damning words to say about people like that. But the office of priest is extremely important in all things religious. They have a lot to do with God, or in the case of the pagans, gods. We can think of a priest in 2 ways. First, a priest is like a go-between. A mediator. His ministry in the Old Testament was absolutely vital. Since the day of our first sin in the Garden of Eden, we were separated from God. The God of the universe. The absolutely pure, all-powerful, all-knowing God cannot be approached by sinful people on their own. Paul writes to Timothy charging him to keep faithful to God and describes him this way, in 1 Timothy 6:16, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. Can we comprehend a God who dwells in unapproachable light? If the light that surrounds God is, as it as it were unapproachable, how much more unapproachable must God himself be? How we need a go-between-a mediator! When God revealed how he wanted things done, he told Moses to develop an entire system of go-betweens: a priesthood. Moses' brother Aaron, would head it up as the high priest. He would be in charge of offering the sacrifices that holy, unapproachable God would be pleased with. One of those sacrificial observances had to do with an annual event where the High Priest would do something awe-some. He would take a perfect lamb, kill it, take its blood and go to the holiest place in the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple and sprinkle the blood before the Ark of the Covenant, 7 times. This ceremony is called "Yom Kippur": the Day of Atonement. If the observance was done right, the sins of Israel would be covered over till the next Yom Kippur. And the High Priest would escape with his life. If the High Priest did something wrong when he was in the Holy of Holies, he would be struck dead on the spot and the sins of the people would not be covered over for that year. So it was absolutely essential for the high priest to do this right. No mistakes allowed. Keep this in mind because we will come back to it in a minute. Second, think of a priest as a "covenant enforcer." The priest was God's "eyes and ears", making sure that God's people were being faithful to the covenant that he made with them. If they, as a nation became unfaithful, then God would punish them. And if we know Israel's history, that is why God sent Babylon to capture them. For 70 years Judah--God's people--were held captive by Babylon, then Medo-Persia (Modern day Iran). Then under the reign of Cyrus, the Jews went back to their own land. But in the midst of all the troubles that God predicted would happen to his people in the Scripture, he inspired his men to pepper throughout the sacred writings promises of God's Messiah. The Messiah would be the true prophet, as Moses told the people in Deuteronomy 18.18: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. He promised that the Messiah would be King in Psalm 2.6-8: "As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill." I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, "You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession." Then through Isaiah, God predicted the Messiah would be Israel's sin-bearer and the same time a priest, a go-between, interceding for the people in Isaiah 53.12: Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. Well, fast forward a few centuries. We know the story. At the right time, Messiah was born. He, the agent through which all came to be--2nd Person of the Trinity made flesh, was also the Lamb of God. Amazingly, he was also born a priest. A mediator between holy God and us sinners. Paul the apostle declares this in 1 Timothy 2.5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. We know Christ was born as King of the Jews. We know that Christ was born as the Lamb of God. But how can Christ be our mediator? He was born to be God's special High Priest. Let me put some things together for us, talking about this amazing office that Christ forever occupies. And I will say at the outset here, if Christ is not the Great High Priest, we could not be saved. "Now wait a minute, pastor," you might be saying. "Is this from the Bible?" Absolutely. "I thought it was our faith in the death and resurrection of Christ that saves us." Bingo. "I thought that Christ's death on the cross purchased our salvation." Absolutely. "But now you are saying that if Christ was not the Great High Priest, we could not be saved?" Exactly. Do I have your attention? Let me compare 2 lambs and 2 priesthoods. Then I will zero in on what I mean. I mentioned earlier that there was a group of people God put in charge of the sacrifices in the Old Testament, led by Aaron. When the Old Testament sacrificial system was in place, there were 2 times when it was all-important that a lamb be killed. The first time was Passover. At 3 in the afternoon on Passover, the high priest would kill the lamb to remind the people that blood was spilled in order to save the first born in the family from the angel of death. When the angel saw the blood applied on the doorposts, he passed over the house and everyone in the family was safe. When Jesus died on the cross, at 3 in the afternoon on Passover, the Lamb of God said, "Paid in full!" The sin debt we owe holy God was satisfied. There was another observance the High Priest was in charge of, done by him alone: "Yom Kippur." As I mentioned, the High Priest would take the blood of a lamb, go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle the blood in front of the Ark of the Covenant. This would cover over the sins of the people for the year. Next year, he would do it again. Why so often? Because the blood of animals could never take away sins. Now, how can this be? God demanded animals to be slain to make atonement for sin. But how is it that these sacrifices cannot take sins away? A partial, short answer is that animals were cursed, just like everything on earth. Sin entered the world through Adam's, not Eve's sin: Romans 5.12: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. See, Eve was deceived, but Adam sinned deliberately. And God tells us sin gets passed on to the children through the father. When God gave the Ten Commandments he said this about the 3rd Commandment: Exodus 20:5: You shall not bow down to them-as in idols-or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. We know how well we learn to sin from our fathers. Certainly, we can see this in our kids. I sometimes call kids video recorders with instant playback. They record our failures, and play them out at the most inconvenient time. It reminds me of a time when a pastor visited the home of a member of his congregation--pre-covid. After greeting the pastor they sat in the living room, and wanting to impress the pastor, the mother said to her daughter, "Janie, go bring the book your mother loves so well." Janie comes out with a Harlequin romance novel in her hand! There is also a theological truth in Exodus 20.5. Our natural bent toward sin is passed down from Adam-our first father-to the rest of us. Because of Adam's sin, not only us, but the entire creation has been affected by sin as we read in Romans 8. So, when the God directed the high priest in the Old Testament to sprinkle the blood of a spotless lamb in front of the Ark of the Covenant, it was not really spotless. It was tainted with sin like everything else. And that is part of the reason why its blood could never take away sin. Now consider Jesus. Though he was born of a woman, he did not have Adam as his father. God was and is his father. Remember the announcement Gabriel made to Mary, a virgin. She was betrothed to be married to Joseph but they did not commit fornication. And by the way, why do we try to soften sin by calling it cute names? We call fornication being "sexually active." We call adultery "having an affair." We call sodomy "the gay lifestyle". The sin of self-love is called "self-care." and on it goes. Let's have the courage of prophets, using the same labels God uses when we deal with sin. So, here is Mary, asking Gabriel how she is able to bear the Messiah--every Jewish girl's dream--since she was never with a man. And Gabriel said, Luke 1:35: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy-the Son of God." Notice that Mary was not going to bear the Son of God through a sexual union with a god-that would be a pagan myth. Jesus was and is the Son of God in terms of relationship, not procreation. Remember, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity always was. Now, this Person was to enter humanity via a holy embryo, in words of Michael Card's song, "To the Mystery". And so, when Jesus was born, blood untainted by sin flowed in his veins. As Jesus grew up, he never had to fight against a sinful nature--he was sinless. But that does not mean he was incapable of sinning. He was, in the words of the Apostle Paul, the Second Adam. There was a time when the first Adam was sinless. But he yielded. Jesus, the second Adam did not. There is an ongoing debate in theological circles about whether Jesus could have sinned. My conclusion is that Jesus could have. But he never once yielded to sin. He lived a perfect life as God's lamb, and therefore was qualified to hang on the cross, taking our place as our sin-bearer. And then the fateful day came. Christ was arrested. Tried. Convicted. Sentenced. Flogged. Stripped naked. Nailed to the cross. And his blood, untainted by sin, fell to the ground. Jesus cried out, "It is finished!" A soldier rammed his spear in Jesus' side and blood and water gushed out. Jesus, the Lamb of God, was dead. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took the body of Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in strips of linen cloth, anointed him with 75 pounds of spices, and laid him in Joseph's tomb. The wicked religious leaders persuaded Pilate to secure a contingent of about 8 soldiers to guard the tomb, lest the cowardly disciples would come and steal the body and say that Jesus rose from the dead. Soldiers were dispatched and 'round the clock they guarded the tomb that Jesus would only need for a few days. And when those days went by, and all heaven broke loose! Angels flung the stone away, and the soldiers ran away. And Jesus emerged, victor over death! Mary Magdalene was at the tomb. She was crying. The angels who got rid of the stone--not so Jesus could get out but so people could look in to verify his resurrection--said, "Woman why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" "Teacher!" Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me--literally, stop clinging to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Let me tie up a loose end before I make my point. The perfect blood of the perfect Lamb of God was shed. All sins were paid in full on the cross. But there was one more task that was to be done. Beyond glorious. Let me give you the heart of the matter in the words of the writer to the Hebrews: When Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things that have come, he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands-[a physical tabernacle], which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, but as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins, but when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. So, what was the task that Jesus accomplished which secured eternal redemption? As High Priest, with his perfect, untainted shed blood in hand, Jesus went to the heavenly tabernacle. As High Priest, Jesus went into the heavenly Holy of Holies. As High Priest, Jesus sprinkled his own blood before the heavenly mercy seat 7 times: the glorious number of completion. Of perfection. The blood of Jesus did, and does, and will forever serve as the glorious reminder that eternal atonement was made. See, as vital as it was for Jesus to die, it was not yet applied in front of the heavenly mercy seat. Just like with the earthly high priest, it was not enough to kill a lamb. It was not enough to collect the blood into a container. It was not enough to go into the Holy of Holies. The high priest, and only the high priest had to apply the blood. And only after that would sins be atoned for. In the case of the earthly high priest and Israel, the sins were covered for 1 year. In the case Jesus, the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, sins were covered forever! But again, our eternal redemption was not complete until Jesus the high priest applied it in the heavenly Holy of Holies. And praise God that is exactly what he did. Hallelujah! I don't know about you, but what that does to me just stops my mouth, as I worship him in profound gratitude of God's faithful high priest, after the order of Melchizedek. The priesthood after the order of Aaron passed away. But the one High Priest after the order of Melchizedek remains forever. And Jesus' blood, untainted by sin, applied before the heavenly mercy seat takes away our sin now and forever! So, how can we apply this eternal, amazing, beyond words truth to our lives? Let's try to answer it by seeing what Jesus is doing right now in heaven. And finally I want to remind us of what God did for us on the inside of our lives through the New Covenant. So, what is Jesus doing now as the heavenly High Priest? Two things. First, he is interceding for us, his people, to the Father. How many times did the Lord pray in the days of his ministry? How many times did the Lord tell us to pray? And more at home, what is the very foundation of this ministry? Prayer. The serious, but glorious truth is that one of the main ministries of the Lord Jesus is his "tag teaming" of our prayers with his. I ran across a pastor and author of a previous century, J.C. Ryle. He wrote these words in 1862, in his book, "A Call to Prayer": There is an Advocate and Intercessor always waiting to present the prayers of those who come to God through Him. That advocate is Jesus Christ. He mingles our prayers with the incense of His own almighty intercession. So mingled, they go up as a sweet savor before the throne of God. Poor as our prayers are in themselves, they are mighty and powerful in the hand of our High Priest and Elder Brother. The bank note without a signature at the bottom is nothing but a worthless piece of paper. The stroke of a pen confers on it all its value. The prayer of a poor child of Adam is a feeble thing in itself, but once endorsed by the hand of the Lord Jesus it avails much. The ear of the Lord Jesus is ever open to the cry of all who want mercy and grace. It is His office to help them. Their prayer is His delight. Think of this. Is not this encouragement? Indeed. The Lord delights when we spend much time in prayer. Does he not tell us through Paul to always be in an attitude of prayer? Like when we are in the presence of someone that we never get tired of hanging around with, wanting to talk to him to her about anything and everything, the Lord is ever ready to hear, to pray with us and to pray for us. And let us not forget that the Holy Spirit is also interceding for us with groanings too deep for words. The second thing the Lord is doing right now is enforcing the New Covenant in our lives. I mentioned earlier that a priest's job was to enforce the covenant that God made with his people. Then and now, what God wants of his people is to live out the covenant relationship we have with him. Indeed, the Lord enforces the New Covenant in our hearts. How so? Simply put, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit: his teaching, guiding, convicting, comforting work. Don't you love it when the Lord, through his Spirit opens your heart to a mind-blowing truth in his word? You read it many times before and then all of a sudden, it's as if God himself is pointing it out to you and your life is forever changed. I can't tell you how many times this has happened to me. Maybe because my theology needs so much tweaking! But what about when we sin? Tragically, as Christians we still do. But one day, we won't--when we get to the other side! But here is where the convicting work of the Spirit comes into play. Say I speak some wicked words. Immediately my conscience rises up because I am not supposed to say what I just said. I rationalize and justify my reasons for saying them. We are masters at that, aren't we? Faithfully, the Holy Spirit begins to convict. I shrug it off. The Holy Spirit continues to put more pressure on my heart. I continue to rationalize. Then the Holy Spirit begins to squeeze my spiritual trapezius muscle. I can't tell you how many times Kitty used this on our boys-when they were growing up of course! Squeeze that muscle hard enough and they hit their knees. No corporal punishment needed! You have their attention, while you softly speak of your displeasure over their behavior in their ear! Well that's sort of what the Lord does to, and for us. Why? Just to see us writhe in pain? No. But to train us in holiness. When you get a chance I encourage you to read Hebrews 12, which is all about God's disciplining us and why he does it. But the bottom line of his discipline is so that we might share his holiness. In a word, the Lord squeezes our spiritual trapezius muscle to drive us to our knees, so that we will repent of the sin he is convicting us of. God's development of our personal holiness is huge to him, as we read in Hebrews 12:14: Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. Did you catch that? No one will see the Lord without holiness. Why? Precisely because God is holy. So, let's heed Hebrews 12:5-6 in our personal holiness training: "My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives." Our heavenly High Priest, the Lord Jesus enforces the New Covenant written on our hearts by his spirit. His goal, his work is that we be like him. And he won't stop til he is finished! Finally, let's close out this message by basking in the goodness of our elder brother, the Lord Jesus. There is something that the New Covenant accomplishes in our lives that is truly new. As we know, Christ Jesus by his Spirit, writes the New Covenant on our heart. God's ways, his Torah, his teaching of real life becomes the most precious thing to us. As great as the writing of the Torah on our hearts is, there is something that the Lord Jesus has taken away to make room, as it were, for the Torah. It is a cleansed conscience. Three times the writer to the Hebrews writes about this. Let me give you the clearest passage about it in Hebrews 9:13-14: For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh-that is the Old Covenant-how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God, the results of the New Covenant! Do you see this amazing thing, my friends? When we understand what our High Priest has done for us by offering his own blood before the heavenly mercy seat, we realize that his blood has also cleansed our conscience! And why is that so important? How many times have we been in this conversation, either with ourselves or with others: "I know the Lord has forgiven me, but I can't forgive myself"? When we say or hear that what do we mean? In short, we tell ourselves that our conscience is not cleansed. We use human logic and see the Lord through our own faulty lens when we do that. How so? Like this. We struggle with the same sin, going to the Lord again and again, confessing it over and over. And eventually we become afraid, "How many times will he forgive me before he has had enough of me?" And here is where the error creeps in. We seem to ask the Lord to sort of "look into his heart" and see if there is still any forgiveness left for us. Because that is what we do with one another, isn't it? Truth be known, we have little tolerance when others hurt us. How often do we respond, "I don't get mad, I get even"? And subtly or not so subtly, we begin to see God in that light. But God does not work that way. Picture the scene. We approach God, full of shame, guilt upon our heart-rightly so because we have sinned. We say, "Lord I confess my sin to you. Here's what I am guilty over." And the Lord says, "I know." And we ask, "Lord can you forgive me?", expecting him to look into his heart of love, to forgive us of the sin we have come to him about time and time again. But God does not look into his heart. God looks into the heavenly tabernacle, at the mercy seat, at the perfect blood of his perfect son who put it there because he is the Great High Priest. And based on that, the Lord says, "I forgive you, for the sake of my son." So, when our heart condemns us, when we feel that our conscience is dirty, we need to, once again go back to the truth: the Lord Jesus, perfect Lamb of God sprinkled his own blood in front of the heavenly mercy seat. It is only there that we can find cleansing of the conscience. It is only there where we can be assured that our God forgives us. For our God is faithful to his covenant. The bottom line is this: God does not forgive because he is nice and loving. He forgives because he is faithful to the covenant he made with us. Praise be to the Lord Jesus for his unspeakable precious ministry, as the Great High Priest. And that's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.