Visual images tell stories. From the cave paintings on the walls of La Grotte Chauvet in France to the latest Tom Clancy novel we’ve “seen” with our minds the story unfold. Its been said that movie theaters are the Church for post-moderns and it shouldn’t surprise us to see the concept of sacrifice and salvation played out on the silver screen.
In “John Q” a desperate father holds a hospital hostage to save his son. Tom Hanks, in “Road to Perdition”, does everything he can to keep his son from traveling down the same road to hell he’d been traveling as a hit man.
Sometimes they show a person sacrificing themselves for the good of a whole group like in “Mr. Roberts” who gives up his demand for a transfer to the front in order to get his men the liberty they so need. Sometimes the sacrifice is meant to save the whole world like “Armageddon” when the crew sacrifice themselves for a hope of saving the planet. But, the fact remains that nothing, from Henry Fonda’s personal sacrifice in 1964’s “Fail-Safe” to Mr. Spock’s line, “the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few” in “The Wrath of Kahn” or Charleston Heston’s crucifix-like death in “The Omega Man” can hope to compare with to the story of God’s love for us and what it meant to have Jesus willing go through the horrid of crucifixion for us.
This is why the book of “Hebrews” was written. It tells how Jesus is superior to what had been before. Those who had believed that Jesus is Messiah and were trying to stay with their Jewish roots were having to answer the age old question; “Why wasn’t the past good enough”? “What’s wrong with the way we’ve done things?” “Why should we all have to change just because of this Jesus?” The first section, chapters 1 and 2 tell us Jesus is superior to the angels. The first part of chapter 3 we learn Jesus is superior to Moses, and those who follow him like those who entered the land. In chapter 6-8 Jesus is shown to be superior to the priesthood and because of his perfection he doesn’t have to offer a sin offering to cover his sins.
And that leads us to here, where Jesus is the High Priest in contrast to the myriad of priests who had come and gone. And the forgiveness that His blood brings cleanses us from sin instead of merely “covering” them.
Once a year the high priest entered, the Holy of Holies, to offer the blood of the sacrifice for the sins of the nation (see Leviticus 16). And before that an offering for the Priest’s own sins had to be made. When Christ enters the picture the need for a special place goes away because He isn’t afraid of dying if He sees God. He has direct access to His Father.
Goats and bulls were “covered” the sins of the people. They made a relationship between God and the people right for a while. But Jesus, by his own blood, doesn’t just “cover” our sins but “cleanses us” Once more listen to how The Message says this,
“ 14think how much more the blood of Christ cleans up our whole lives, inside and out. 15Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God.”
In a day where sacrificing animals or even butchering them is something most of us don’t do and have never seen done what can this possibly have to do with us? First of all our world is a lot like Jesus’. Beliefs, religions, personal desires, and religious expressions were varied, welcomed and somewhat even protected and promoted by Rome. What happened after someone died was a matter of speculation and feelings. There was a lack of any certainty or hope among many of those who lived them. They were trying to survive.
Today our world promote a belief that all religions lead to heaven. Have you seen the bumper sticker that says, “My God is too big to fit in one religion”? That summarizes the “feelings” of many in our culture. And these various religions all have their myriad of “priest”, “prophets” and “portrayers”.
In fact, there are a whole myriad of “priests” for these various feelings (I can’t use the word faith for many of them). From WICCA to Islam; from the ADL to the lobbying effort by American Atheists. It’s there in movies like “Ghost” that promote a simple view that good people go to the light and bad people are dragged off to hell. “What Dreams May Come” would have us believe we create our own heavenly universe. It’s much like Deepak Chopra’s mix of new age and Hinduism. For he, along with the Ophra Winfrey are modern day priests for New Age “feelings. Our political leaders too become prophets of this they extol the peaceful nature of Islam while ignoring Islam’s own teaching in the Koran. All of these and others seek to make Jesus just another one of the myriad of pretenders. If you think our nation is alone in this battle take heart. An Italian judge ruled that a crucifix had to be removed from a classroom because Muslims were feeling uncomfortable.
We need to be aware of those forces that would dilute the superiority of Christ as the High Priest—the perfect offering and the perfect priest to offer the sacrifice to God. Jesus alone has the right to speak to the Father on our behalf because He came from the Father and has seen the Father (John 6:45-47). Others only guess at what they think is real. Jesus tells us what He’s seen, what He’s been a part of, and what awaits those who believe in Him.
Jesus as High Priest short-circuits the “myriad” of human attempts to enter heaven. Let me shock some of you by saying that I believe that you CAN get to heaven by being good enough. You CAN experience God’s eternal presence without believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Having said that let me also explain that what God calls “good enough” is not what you and I mean by “good enough” For you see God considers us “good enough” when we are perfect. Not mostly perfect. Not almost perfect but perfect. Ever lie? Ever throw a temper tantrum over not getting you way in a grocery store? Ever been selfish? Ever ignore what you know God’s word said to do? Ever lusted? Ever hated someone? Well if so then you’re NOT good enough; and neither am I.
The world says be nice, practice random acts of kindness, do good to others and don’t kick animals and if you remember to send birthday cards to your dear old Grandmother you’ll get to go to heaven. If that were “good enough” it would be nice, but it’s not. We believe that “good ole what’s his name” must have gone to heaven after all we’ve known them 30 years and he was a nice neighbor. But God’s known ‘what’s his name” since before time began. God knows the thoughts what’s-his-name has had. He knows the secrets what’s-his-name has covered up and God’s judgment is perfect. And without Christ that perfection that God demands isn’t met.
Some modern day priests are spiritually driven. Their focus is on the role of religion in gaining eternal life. Now these religions may be organized, or disorganized; nature oriented or rational thought oriented’ tied to one of the big name faiths like Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or it may be a religious buffet like the new age movement; but the catchall phrase is “It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you’re sincere”. How accommodating would such people be if you believed in say…human sacrifice or multiple marriages?
Israel had a great “religious” way of “covering the sins of the people but Christ is superior because it is His perfect blood that takes care of the cleansing we need. Mormonism has a great work ethic and care for their own members but Jesus’ blood cleanses us no whether or not we’ve got a years supply of groceries saved up. There is much to be emulated when it comes to the personal purity that is expected of a Muslim but it is Jesus’ blood that makes any life-long change real.
There is a personal aspect to what is written here in Hebrews. Jesus is superior to the personal religious rituals we’ve made so important for ourselves. Jesus is superior to those things that are most precious to us. Jesus is superior to our heritage in which we pride ourselves, to our position which gives us a voice that is listened to and to our excuses which we use to keep us from living responsible lives.
Jesus, the better way, the only way, has come and stripped away the old, the ordinary, the comfortable in favor of a dynamic, an extraordinary and an uneasy new experience—the Body of Christ.
Some of us will need to sit down and tell God, “Show me what you’re doing. I’m tired of playing at church. I want more.” Others will have to start reading the Bible, maybe for the first time in a long time of the first time ever. Others will find themselves tempted to do the unthinkable in worship, to become excited and expect to meet God here. All of us need to continually remind ourselves that we’re here to please Christ and that Christ is not here to please us.
Why should this matter? Think about it, Jesus could have said, "In memory of me, tie blue ribbons around your heads, hold hands in a circle, and chant my name. Then I’ll be truly present in your midst." If he had we’d believe it, and do it. After all it would have been the tradition of the Church for 2000 years. Instead he talked about eating his body and drinking his blood and do you remember how some of Jesus’ followers reacted in John 6? They left him. It was a “hard saying”.
Jesus uses this meal because food is central to our life and for most people in the world it’s something done in community. This was true of us too if you ignore the last 50 year s or so. He also used it to remind us of the cost of God’s love. So when we eat and drink we recall the body and blood of our Lord and beyond that we are met by Him, made strong by His presence and nourished spiritually. In short, this table gives us the opportunity to demonstrate our faith in Jesus as the one and only way. Let us come to His table.