Mid-week Lent 2 – Vespers – March 3, 2004

In Nomine Iesu

Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Mid-week Lent 2

March 3, 2004

Text: Hebrews 9:6-14

Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. 7 But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; 8 the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. 9 It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience – 10 concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation. 11 But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. 12 Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Dear friends in Christ,

Our text from Hebrews draws our attention to the Old Testament Day of Atonement and the clear connection with the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

The Day of Atonement was a once per year special day for Israel. On this day the high priest would offer special sacrifices that would make it possible to continue the daily sacrifices for another year. He would make a sacrifice of cleansing for the sins of himself, for the people, and also cleanse the very altar itself. How did all this cleansing take place? Through very specific sacrifices and ritual.

First, the high priest, the only one allowed to enter the Most Holy Place of the Temple in which was the mercy seat, the top of the ark of the covenant, had to bathe himself and put on plain linen clothes instead of the usual ornate vestments of the high priest that were made of gold and precious stones. Thereby the high priest signified his own humility, and how he himself needed the forgiveness of sins. Then he would burn incense at the curtain dividing the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place of the Temple. This incense created a cloud of smoke that would hide the high priest from the glory and majesty of God. Then a bull calf was sacrificed specifically for the high priest. The blood was kept, and the high priest would go to the curtain of the Most Holy Place. Then he would sprinkle the blood on the curtain, and on the mercy seat. This blood was for himself. He would do the same with the blood of one goat, which was for the people. After this, he would mix the blood of the bull and the goat and use it to sprinkle the altar of burnt offering, the place where all the daily offerings were made to the Lord. Unlike the blood sprinkled in the Most Holy Place, this sprinkling of blood at the altar occured in the sight of all the assembly. The impurity of the people due to their sins would thus be cleansed from the altar, allowing it to be used for the next year. In one final action, the high priest would turn to one other live goat, and then we read from Leviticus:

Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, confess over it all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and shall send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a suitable man. 22 The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to an uninhabited land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.

As one reads the careful instructions for the high priest, one is struck at the solemnity of this Day of Atonement, and how precisely the priest needed to follow the Lord’s directions. The use of blood is also striking. Blood prepares the way for the high priest, blood prepares the way for the people, and blood prepares the altar; all is done so that the priest and people may receive the forgiveness of their sins.

The author of Hebrews is well aware of the Old Testament instructions and ritual. We read: “But into the second part [of the Temple] the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.” Clearly, the emphasis is on the blood, without which the high priest may not enter before the presence of God. The blood is the life, and the giving up of the life of the bull and the goat cleanses the people of their sin, not because of any special quality of that blood, but because this is what the Lord commanded and promised.

Our text proceeds from the lesser to the greater, from that which had to be done over and over again, to that which only happened once. So we are told of our Savior: “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He [Jesus] entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Yes, the blood is the life. And the blood of Jesus, spilled at the cross of Golgotha, far surpasses any blood of the goats and calves. This blood of the Son of God is the blood that allows Him entrance into the Most Holy Place, for He needs no other blood than His own. There is no blood holier; there is no blood with more life. Jesus blood is so pure and powerful that it cleanses our sin completely; His blood is so filled with life that it is eternal, without end, forever and ever.

We need this blood on us and on our children. Our impurity is so thick that we are corrupted for all our life and for eternity. It is a stain set so deep that none of our attempts to scrub or purge it from ourselves will work. The sacrifice of the Son of God shows us the immensity of our sin; but even more it shows us the greater love of God for us who are unclean, stained, and polluted with sin.

“For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, 14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” By God’s wondrous love the blood of Christ Jesus is sprinkled upon us. In Baptism, we see the water red with the blood of Christ, not in some gory display, but as a washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, known by faith to those who believe the promise of God in Baptism. In the Holy Supper we receive this blood, the blood of Jesus Christ, the blood filled with the life of Jesus, eternal life, given and shed, poured out, for you.

The sacrifices of the Old Testament are at an end. The sacrifice of Jesus was once-for-all on the day we call Good Friday. It need not ever be repeated again. But by God’s grace we are able to know of this death that means life, this suffering that means peace, this Jesus who is our Savior. “…with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” This is God’s precious gift for you. Believe it in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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