Every book of the Bible, especially the New Testament, has a niche to it. A specific aim or purpose that is used as a focus point in order to express the Good News of Jesus Christ. For instance John writes a theological explanation of Jesus’ life and mission. Romans is Paul’s attempt to introduce himself to the Roman church while also offering some perspectives on how he understood God’s grace. As well, 1 and 2 Corinthians are letters written by Paul that address ongoing issues in the church in Corinth.
Hebrews is no different. It has a specific niche or purpose to it, yet it is also a book that is unlike any other. It is more of a sermon than it is a letter. A sermon preached to an audience that is an attempt to express Jesus’ mission in terms they could understand and, ultimately, lead to a deeper faith and trust in Christ.
Really, that is what a sermon is all about. At its most basic level, a sermon is about connecting our hearts and minds to something in the text in a way that brings us to a deeper trust and faith in Christ. A sermon moves us by showing us how Scripture intersects with our lives in ways that calls us to a deeper faith in God.
This is what we see throughout the great sermon of Hebrews. The world of the audience is engaged in such a way to call the hearer, both then and now, to experience the love of Christ in a deeper way that leads to transformation and renewal of our lives. Our text from Hebrews 9:11-14, this morning, is an example of using something that was understood in those times to express something about Christ’s love in order to inspire deeper faith and spiritual growth. The lessons found in this passage are still applicable to us today, even though we find ourselves centuries removed from when this sermon was first preached.
Our text invites us to see how the sermon is being preached to all of us today. To see how the sermon from Hebrews 9:11-14 intersects with our lives today in such a way that it calls us to experience a renewed trust and faith in the Lord. It invites us to see how God calls us to let go of the things that do not lead to spiritual growth and, instead, claim the One who offered himself for us so we may experience true transformation and renewal.
To understand what this looks like it is important to consider the context of when the sermon from Hebrews was initially delivered. Many of the original hearers would have been familiar with the language of sacrifices found in our text. They would have understood the Levitical practices that centered on the sacrifice of animals to provide ritual purity. Two texts, Leviticus 16:5-15 and Numbers 19:1-10, describe some of the sacrificial practices described in our passage. These practices primarily dealt with sacrifices to atone for sin and to purify the people.
The practice we are mostly familiar with is the one found in Leviticus 16:5-15. It describes the practices surrounding the Day of Atonement. On that day the priest would enter the tabernacle and offer a sacrifice for the people’s sin. The priest would go into the holy of holies and place the sacrificial offering on the mercy seat. This sacrificial offering would offer atonement for the people’s sin, except there was a problem with the practice. The sacrifice had to be repeated every year. Because of this, the sacrifices did not do as it was hoped. It never fully cleansed a person in the deepest parts of their soul. It wasn’t an entirely bad system, however it just did not go deep enough to truly redeem the people.
Even though it did not go to truly redeem, the people of Jesus’ time held on to these practices of they were familiar to them. Even though the sacrifices did not do as they were intended, in bringing about lasting salvation and redemption, the people held onto them. They believed this was how they were to experience God’s hope and love for them and it would lead to spiritual growth. The Preacher of Hebrews recognizes this. The Preacher invites them to see how these practices were inadequate by calling them dead acts because they could not fully cleanse the person’s conscience.
If we allow ourselves to hear these words from Hebrews 9:11-14 spoken to us, I believe, it calls us to consider the dead works of our lives that we hang onto believing that they will lead to deeper and meaningful spiritual renewal in our faith in Christ when, sometimes, they do not. We can be just like our spiritual ancestors and hang onto practices we are familiar with believing that because they assisted us in seeing Christ’s love in the past they will do so in the present. We are just as likely to do things for the sake of doing them, instead of truly engaging what it truly means to grow in our faith in God. In doing so, we often focus more on the means of spiritual transformation than on the ends of being holy as our heavenly Father is holy (Matthew 5:48 NIV). Our passage asks us to consider if the practices we cling to by saying that we must do them to experience Christ’s love are truly leading us to daily spiritual transformation in our faith in Christ.
What can truly lead to deep and daily spiritual renewal, our passage tells us, is if our lives are completely transformed by what Jesus did and continues to do for us. The Preacher takes the practices that were familiar to the people, the Levitical sacrifices, and invites the people then and us to see a deeper way of life by looking at how Christ brought these practices to their greater fulfillment.
Building on the image of Jesus as the great high priest that was established earlier in Hebrews, the Preacher says Jesus entered into the “greater and more perfect tabernacle” to fulfill the priestly duties (Hebrews 9:11). That greater tabernacle was the presence of God. Jesus went before the Father to offer a sacrifice for the people’s sin. This wasn’t a sacrifice of bulls or calves. It was a sacrifice of his own body. Jesus freely and voluntarily gave of himself, so that every person throughout all time could experience complete redemption. Jesus, who was without fault, freely gave of himself on the cross through a one-time and for all-time act that paves the way for all people to experience renewed life with God through faith.
Unlike the practices of old, what Jesus did for each of us doesn’t just deal with outer expressions. That was one of the hold backs of the Levitical practices. Instead, Jesus’ act of love deals with our heart. The blood of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, cleanses us on a deeper level. Where the old ways simply cleansed a person so they would be able to attend to the religious practices of the day, Jesus’ atonement offering gets to the deeper level of our sin by standing in our place so that we may experience true redemption and renewal of life. On the cross, Jesus offered his life for all people to cleanse us all of our guilt, our brokenness, our hurts, our mistakes, and our failures. Jesus offers a new and deeper life through giving of himself for every one of us.
As the Preacher expresses the deeper reality of Jesus’ redeeming work, the Preacher invites us to consider what it means for us today. Jesus offers himself for our redemption, “so that” in response to Christ’s love “we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14) We are called to serve God by claiming Christ’s love and growing daily in faith. This means we are to called be daily renewed and transformed by the life of Christ. In response to Christ’s offering of hope and love for us, we are called to cling to the sacrifice by allowing it to be the means that leads to deeper transformation and renewal in our hearts and in the life of our community.
The way we do this is by clinging to practices that lead us to completely surrendering ourselves to the Lord. Our lives are to be fully given over to Christ in such a way where we hold nothing back from the Lord. To give of ourselves completely to Jesus so that we might become a new person who are no longer defined by what was in the past, but instead transformed by the life of Christ and defined by God’s love today, tomorrow, and always. In doing so, we are able to experience a deeper renewal that allows us to experience God’s hope, peace, joy, and everlasting love. Clinging to Christ’s love and surrendering ourselves to the Lord is about living a life that allows what Christ does in our hearts to be expressed in how we interact with others. To allow the redeeming power of Christ to shape our entire lives, so that we may share with our community our hope and joy that is found in Christ.
In a few moments, we will celebrate communion together. It is a meal reminds us of Jesus’ willingness to give of himself so that we may experience forgiveness and redemption. At the same time, communion calls us to be daily transformed by Christ’s love. To no longer seek renewal by the familiar ways of old, but to be transformed through completely surrendering our lives to Christ so we may experience the depths and lengths of Christ’s love.
Jesus freely surrendered his life so that we may experience a new and redeemed life. May we surrender ourselves to God, so we might experience the depths of Christ’s love and be transformed in such a way that we live lives worthy of God’s love for us.