November 4, 2018 [All Saints]  Hebrews 10:11-18  J.D.Roekle

 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16  “This is the covenant I will make with them

after that time, says the Lord.

I will put my laws in their hearts,

and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts

I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 

 

Made Holy by the Perfect Sacrifice

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          Are you holy?  Notice that I did not ask ‘do you feel holy’.  But are you holy?  Today we celebrate All Saints day and as such we mark the saints that have gone before us in heaven.  We can understand that they are holy, because they are completely removed from sin.  But today we also celebrate the saints here on earth.  Through faith in Jesus, you are a saint.  Keep in mind that the word saint means ‘holy one.’  By definition you are holy too.  But what does that mean, and how can we be holy since each of us knows our own track record of sin?

          If you are confused by this whole concept of holiness, you aren’t alone.  In 2006 the Barna Group published a survey that revealed most Americans don’t consider themselves to be holy.  73 percent of those polled believed it possible for someone to become holy regardless of their past.  Only half of those polled said they know someone they considered to be holy.  But of those that were polled, only 21 percent considered themselves to be holy.  Even when they only looked at the Christians who were polled, the results were basically the same. 

          The fact is, people are often confused about holiness, because they fail to see where holiness comes from.  God tells us “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.”  (Leviticus 19:2)  God tells us this because in order to stand before God, we must be holy. 

          So what do people do with this command of God?  The natural reaction is to turn inward.  I need to get to work!  I need to be the best that I can be.  And when I don’t feel like I’m keeping up with God’s command, I have to try harder. 

          Those thoughts have led people to try to achieve holiness by fasting; by going on pilgrimages; by praying the same prayer repetitively; by giving of themselves or of their resources to help others. 

          Does any of this work?  Can one become holy by doing these things?  On one hand, people might feel better about themselves.  But God doesn’t judge us on how we feel about ourselves.  And even if someone were to be holy in the things that they do, how much holiness is necessary to stand before God?

          Think of it this way.  When someone goes to donate blood, their blood is tested.  If they find a trace of something like HIV in it, they won’t use it.  The blood could be 99% good, but the trace of something bad makes it all bad. 

          In other words, even if you vowed to be holy starting today and even if you were able to accomplish that going forward, it still wouldn’t erase the past.  The fact is, you are still unable to be holy in God’s sight. 

          So what’s the solution?  The solution is not in looking inward, but rather outward.  Since holiness does not and cannot by nature exist within us, it must come from an outside source. 

          Since ancient times, people have been struggling with this holiness issue and it has led peoples in various cultures and nations to create their own gods.  Such was the case in ancient Canaan.  In the Old Testament, the Lord told Moses to pass the following command to the people: “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech.”  What is being referred to there is the detestable practice of child sacrifice.  People who worshiped this false god knew that they were not holy.  How could they then appease the wrath of their god who demanded holiness?  They thought by sacrificing “innocent” children, it would appease the wrath of their god. 

          As detestable as their practice was, they were certainly on to something.  A sacrifice would be necessary.  A perfect sacrifice.  Just not the sacrifice of their children! 

          The truth that sacrifice was necessary was established by God himself.  That’s why he established the priesthood in Israel and the whole sacrificial system.  The aroma of the sacrifice was to be a pleasing smell to God.  The people were sacrificing the best they had in order to appease God’s wrath.  The best of their grains.  The best of their animals.  

          Did it work?  Did their sacrifice bring them the holiness they desired?  The writer to the Hebrews wrote: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” 

          None of those sacrifices actually took any sins away.  So what was the point?  Why repeat them day in and day out?  If they did nothing to bring them holiness, then it seems like it was a waste of time and effort and resources. 

          But all these sacrifices were simply foreshadowing the great High Priest, Jesus Christ.  He was the one doing the sacrifice and he was the one who provided the sacrifice – himself!  It was this one sacrifice that accomplished what all those other sacrifices couldn’t.  The Hebrew write quotes the prophet Jeremiah: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 

          That’s how God now looks at us.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  Is it that God has amnesia?  Is he like a permissive grandparent who is just will to look the other way and give us a pass?  No, God does not have amnesia and God is not permissive when it comes to the law.  This is possible because with his sacrifice, Jesus took on all the full brunt of the punishment necessary for our sins.  He suffered hell on the cross. 

          And now, you are holy “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  You are holy because Jesus has made you holy.  Perfect.  He has given you his holiness.  It is wrapped around you like a blanket.  You are covered.  You can stand before God holy because of Jesus. 

          That being the case, you know you still sin.  And so, you go back to God to continue to receive his forgiveness day after day.  He assures you time and time again that he won’t hold any sins against you.  Why?  Because of the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

          And now, even though you are born with a sinful nature and have been actively sinning, Jesus is making you holy.  When the Holy Spirit created faith in you, he created something new in you.  A new person.  A new life. 

          And with this change comes a change in perspective.  Heaven has already been secured for you.  You are now living your life out of thankfulness for Jesus and what he did for you.  This means that you now hate sin.  You are instead eager to live a holy life.  A life that is pleasing to God.  And in order to live a life pleasing to God, you look to follow his will by hearing what he has to say.  The Psalmist reflects this attitude:  “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.  My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.” 

          Are you holy?  You are made holy by God’s grace.  You have been made holy by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  And now you strive after holiness.  Not because you’re trying to get to right with God, but because you are already right with God through faith.  Amen.