Summary: 14th Sunday after Pentecost, 3-year Series C, this sermon explores the comparison of testimonies made by the blood of Abel (demanding vengence) and the blood of Jesus (providing forgiveness.)
The text for today’s message is taken from the Epistle Lesson to the Hebrews which we read just a few moments ago, especially these words: “18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 22a But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God… 23b …You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” So far our text.
It is a fascinating comparison that the author of Hebrews makes in the verses for today. He contrasts Mount Sinai, the place where the Law was given through Moses, to the holy mountain of God, Mount Zion and the heavenly city of Jerusalem. A number of things can be pointed out. First of all Mount Sinai is a temporary way-station, not a permanent dwelling place. The Israelites do not set up settlement on Mount Sinai, instead they receive the Law and then keep moving to wander in the desert. It is not a place of rest or permanence. Whereas Mount Zion is the eternal holy dwelling place of the Almighty God and His people. Mount Zion is where the city of Jerusalem, the crown jewel of God, the stronghold of His people – His children, this is where they reside in peace forever. A place not terrifying to behold, but marked by bliss and the highest joy.
Mount Sinai was where the chosen people received the Law through Moses. And why did they need it? Why were they given the Law? St. Paul reminds us in both his letter to the Galatians and to the church in Rome, that the Law was added because of the sin of the people. Its intention was to point the people to the Savior, the coming Messiah, because with the Law their sin would increase, they would become that much more aware of how they missed the mark, and their need for deliverance outside of their own efforts would become painfully clear. The contrast to Mount Zion is seen in verse 23 of our text. Dwelling there is God, the judge of all men, and the spirits of righteous men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, not through the Law.
This brings us to the final comparison of these verses. Verse 24 speaks of sprinkled blood. What is the significance of sprinkled blood? Earlier in chapter 9 of Hebrews we have it explained to us, as well as in Exodus, Leviticus, 2 Kings, and 2 Chronicles. Of how the priest was to sprinkle the scroll, the tabernacle, the altar and everything used in its ceremonies, his garments and even the people, with the blood of the sacrifice. In this way everything was cleansed with blood, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. And so we see in this picture of Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem, the joyful assembly of angels and those men justified through the sprinkling of blood, the blood of sacrifice, the blood of the mediator – Jesus Christ.
We are told that this blood speaks. It testifies. And its message is contrasted with other blood which has spoken – namely the blood of Abel. Now, why Abel’s blood, and what has his blood been saying?
Here it gets really interesting. For between Abel and Jesus Christ there are some startling similarities as well as differences. Both of them were innocent and both of them victims of the actions of evil men. Both of them were betrayed, and both of them were murdered. Both of them had rendered their best to God, and given proper service and obedience to Him, in this way both of their deaths involved the spilling of righteous blood.
And in both cases their spilled blood speaks a testimony. From Genesis chapter 4, the Lord testifies that Abel’s blood cries out from the ground which had opened its mouth to receive his death at the hand of his brother Cain. Abel was the first graphically tragic victim of the entrance of sin into the perfect creation. And his blood cries out from the earth calling for vengeance – calling for vindication and retribution.
Both Matthew and Luke’s gospels have record of Jesus pronouncing an accusation upon the people of Israel in regard to the responsibility of shedding the righteous blood of the prophets whom they killed – beginning the list with Abel. And so we see the message which Abel’s blood delivers: it is a message of accusation and law, it is a message of judgment and vengeance.