Lent 5 2018 Judica
March 18, 2018
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
“…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.” This is our text.
Read Hebrews 9:1-10 for greater context.
Our Epistle reading is one of the important Biblical texts for the theology and practice of worship in the Christian church. The author shows how the Divine Service of the Holy Word and Sacrament differs from the worship of the Israelites and worship in all other religions. It centers our reliance on Jesus as our high priest before God in heaven and His gift of a clean conscience through His blood. For an all other religions, worship has to do with attempted rites of self-purification and contact with the divine by acts of devotion. In the Divine Service, Christians receive a clean conscience from Jesus, so that we can serve the living God with a good conscience.
There is a truth that we are shaped by, whether we recognize it or not. God is holy, and you are not. Only those who have been cleansed of sin, who have a good conscience before God, can approach the living God safely and beneficially, for without a good conscience the Father’s face is clouded, His Word is misheard, and His gifts are abused. A guilty conscience regards God as either a parent who lets a child get away with anything, or an angry judge. A guilty conscience mishears God’s Law as an impossible demand for self-improvement or a critical message of condemnation; it mishears the Gospel as a license to sin or as a message of affirmation to do whatever it wants. It takes God’s gifts and turns them into self-entitlements for self-indulgence.
But the purpose of the Divine Service, the reason we come here again and again, is to deliver a clean conscience that enables God’s people to approach Him with confidence, not presuming and demanding anything other than what He has promised. Our whole Sunday morning is shaped around this way that God deals with us. The service begins with recalling our Baptism in the Invocation and then the rite of Confession and Absolution. We approach God knowing that our Baptismal identity gives us the right to call Him Father and to stand in His presence. We admit our sinfulness and that we deserve punishment. And we receive His grace through faith in Christ, a clean conscience for the sake of this Jesus who shed His blood for us that we may serve the living God. We sing His praise, we recall His actions in the past, we hear His Word rightly as Law and Gospel to enlighten and confirm, to condemn our sin and show us our Savior; we are led to eat Christ’s holy body and drink His cleansing blood for the forgiveness of our sins, for life and salivation and strength, equipping us to serve our Lord and our neighbor. This all comes from our High Priest, Jesus, who cleanses us with His blood, redeems us from death, delivers to us eternal life, and gives all good things from God.
Even the shape of our church symbolizes the reality of all this. Where you all sit is called the nave, as in a ship, the holy ark of the Christian Church through which God separates, makes holy, sanctifies us from the multitude of unbelievers and serving the Lord at all times with a fervent spirit and a joyful hope. We have this arch here, and the place up front is called the chancel, and the area right around the altar is called the sanctuary. The altar is combines the function of all the liturgical furniture in the Old Testament temple: it is the place for presentation of all offerings and prayers. It is God’s throne, the throne of grace, the place where God delivers to us the very body and blood of Christ. That is why we reverence the altar, why we kneel as we receive the Holy Sacrament.
Unlike the Temple though, there is no curtain here where the archway marks the difference. In the church, the holy way, the way from earth to heaven, is not blocked. When Jesus died upon the cross, the temple curtain was torn in two. Access to God, and God’s access to man, is not through the offerings of man, but only by and through the High Priest Jesus. He is the mediator, the only mediator, between God and man. He is the sacrifice for our sins, and by His blood we are cleansed, securing an eternal redemption. We have an aisle that provides the way of the congregation to enter the Most Holy. So those who have been washed by Baptism, declared justified by the Word of God, come to Christ’s table to be sprinkled with His Blood. Divine blood that cleanses people entirely from all inward and outward impurity and unholiness and ushers them into the presence of the Father, the heavenly Holy of Holies.
St. Paul catches this idea in his treatment of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” The Lord’s Supper directs our faith to the cross and to His coming in glory. There we are cured of our sin. There Christian character is gained. There we meet the Lord, there the cross is lifted up and the benefits of Jesus’ death are given to those who partake of His body and His blood, there we are called and purified to serve.
Our High Priest has made us priests. The service of a priest is to sacrifice. Having our sins paid for by Christ, our sacrifice is now turned to the needs of others. As we proclaim the Lord’s death this morning, by our eating and drinking we also declare, Jesus died for us, His blood covers our sin and purifies our conscience, that we may be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. We celebrate with grateful hearts the miracle that the eternal God became man and died on the cross. In this feast of victory of our God, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we bow before the throne of the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.