Judica Sunday (Lent 5)| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| March 26, 2023
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) He entered once for all into the holy places, not by the means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:11-12)
When two nations are at odds, it is common for diplomats from a third, neutral nation to mediate peace. Scripture says that Christ appeared as a High Priest. A priest is a mediator between God and man. He is that third party, who must bring the two other parties, God, and man, together. Yet, this is a huge problem. Who can possibly mediate between God and man? Perhaps an angel? Angels are certainly a third party. They are neither human nor divine. Yet, they are incapable of sympathizing with us humans in our weakness. They are spirits created by God for the purpose of doing God’s work. Psalm 89 states, “Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?” So, even the angels fear God and cannot be compared to Him. So, priests, that is, mediators between God and men, have always been men! And for this reason, priests have always been insufficient mediators.
For one thing, these priests, including the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant, were prevented by death from continuing to serve forever. So, a single priest could not continue to make intercession for the sins of the people. Secondly, these priests themselves were sinners! So, they needed to offer sacrifices to God, first for their own sins, and then for the transgressions of the people (Hebrews 7:27). Such priests themselves could not stand before God to make eternal intercession for the people. Their priesthood was bound to be replaced by a better one!
Yet, it is not only a fault in the priests being sinful men, that makes their priesthood incapable of making eternal peace between God and men, it is their victims, that is, what they offer to God as a sacrifice. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to sacrifice his own son! Yet, this being a test, He did not permit Abraham to slay his son, but rather provided a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s stead. And this pattern of sacrificing an animal in the stead of the son continued throughout the history of Israel. God commanded through Moses that that Levitical priests sacrifice numerous animals, lambs, goats, bulls, and doves to make atonement for the sins of the people. This was necessary, because without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
Yet, Scripture makes clear, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4). For this reason, millions of lambs, goats, bulls, and doves were sacrificed, but the sacrifices were still required. God gave Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac, yet their still remained a Lamb for God to provide!
This is because our sins are immensely grievous. We heard on Wednesday night from Psalm 130, “If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Yet, our sins number more than the hairs on our head! (Psalm 40:12) The mediation we need between us and God is not like the mediation between two countries, who may each have legitimate grievances against the other. The conflict between us and God is very one sided. We have sinned against God. He has done nothing wrong. Our sins need to be atoned for. They must be paid for. God, in His righteousness, demands that these sins be punished. Killing innumerable animals isn’t going to cut it.
Humanity is in a crisis. We have convinced ourselves that our sins are not so bad. Yet, we murder. Perhaps not physically, yet in our hearts we hate, which is where all murders start. We speak evil of our neighbors, or at least think evil of them, all the while we expect everyone to look at our words and actions in the most charitable way. Our culture has been so perverted with sexual sins that we expect God to change His standard for chastity based on our opinions. And this gets to the heart of the problem with Jesus’ opponents in John 8. Jesus says to them, “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47)
We disagree with God, and we think it is nothing, as if our opinions are so lofty that God should lay His word aside and listen to us! We deny our own sins, but that doesn’t give us life! What were the Jews so angry with Jesus about? Jesus said that whoever keeps His Word will never see death. They were offended at this. They had rejected Jesus’ words, but they had accepted death! They not only rejected Jesus as the way to salvation, they rejected the idea of salvation all together! And that is all the world can do. When the world argues with Jesus and rejects Him as the Savior from sin and argues with God and tells Him sin isn’t sin, they don’t accomplish anything. They don’t solve the problem that sin places on us. They don’t soothe our guilty conscience and give us peace with God! They just push us into despair!
But let’s stop playing games for a minute. We aren’t God. All people put together do not possess the wisdom, knowledge, or power of God. We cannot absolve ourselves of our own sins or tell God that He owes us anything. Yet, we will all stand before Him on Judgment Day to give an account for what we have done in this life. Are you going to defend your idolatry, lust, hatred, gossip, anger, laziness, greed, and pride? How can you stand before the righteous God and argue your cause to Him? (Job 13:3)
So, no. Your excuses and scheming cannot explain away your guilt. Your “good works” cannot earn your peace with God. Not even the blood of countless sacrificial animals commanded by God can take away a single sin. Why then did God command them? To point us to the one true priest and the one true sacrifice for sin: Jesus Christ.
The entire story of Abraham nearly sacrificing Isaac teaches of Jesus, the only true Mediator between God and man. God told Abraham to sacrifice his only Son, whom he loved. God gave His only begotten Son, whom He loved to be sacrificed for our sins. Abraham said to His servants, “I and the boy will go over there, and worship and we will come again to you.” Abraham was not lying. He believed that God would raise his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:19). So also, Jesus said that He had authority to lay down His life and authority to take it back again (John 10:18). Isaac carried the wood on which he would be sacrificed up the mountain. So did Jesus bear the wood of His cross to Golgotha. Isaac could have outmuscled his elderly father and saved his own life, but he laid down willingly to be sacrificed. So also, Jesus could knock all His opponents to the ground with a word, but He willingly went to be crucified. Yet, Isaac was not sacrificed. His father received Him back alive. Instead, a ram was sacrificed in Isaac’s stead.
That ram, along with every whole burnt offering, peace offering, guilt offering, and Passover lamb did not actually take away sin, but Jesus did! Why can Jesus do what all these sacrifices failed to do? Because Jesus is true God and true man.
The Jews were angry at Jesus, because Jesus said that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, he saw it and was glad. They said to Jesus, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham.” Jesus responded, “Before Abraham was, I am.” This makes Jesus the perfect Mediator, the perfect Priest! At that time, Jesus was indeed less than fifty years old, having been born of His virgin mother about thirty years earlier. Yet, Jesus is also God, the Son of God the Father. He did not simply exist before Abraham. Before Abraham was, He is. When Moses asked God in the burning bush, “What is your name?” God responded, “I am who I am. Tell the people of Israel that I AM has sent you.” (Exodus 3) So, the people of Israel called God, “HE IS.” By Jesus saying, “Before Abraham was, I AM,” He is in no uncertain terms claiming to be God. Before Abraham was, He is unchanging and eternal. Before Abraham was, He has the name of the only God. Jesus is the Angel of the LORD, who stopped Abraham’s hand from slaughtering his son. Abraham rejoiced to see Jesus’ day through faith, believing that God would provide the true Lamb of God to make atonement for sins.
St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:5-6) Jesus Christ is a man, yet He is not an insufficient mediator, because Jesus Christ is true God. He is obedient in our place, able to sympathize with our weakness. He is able to represent us truly as a man, standing before God as the representative of the entire human race. And His death on the cross, laden with the sins of the whole world, is a sufficient price to pay for the sins of every human being once and for all.
We desperately needed a High Priest, a Mediator to make intercession before God on our behalf. No angel could do it. The men who served as priests before Jesus could not do it. The blood of bulls and goats could not pay for our sins. Our smart thinking and cleaver works could not make up for our sins. Only Jesus, the Godman, could stand between us and God and make peace by His own blood.
This is why Jesus can promise us, “Amen, amen, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” To keep Jesus’ word is to believe His promise of forgiveness and salvation and trust in it. Jesus can give us this promise, because He is our great Mediator.
Jesus is your mediator. That means that when you look at God, you look at Him only through Jesus. This means that when you look at God, who see the God who sent His Son to die for your sins and who gladly forgives you for Christ’s sake. Jesus is your mediator. That means that when God looks at you, He does not look at you apart from Jesus. When He looks at you, He sees you washed clean of all your sins and clothed in Christ’s righteousness.
Jesus is our great High Priest. That means Jesus is our Mediator between us and God. And there is no other mediator, who can grant us peace with God. Amen.