But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Sermon for Judica Sunday 04/03/22
Cleansed from Dead Works
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
We have all heard the slogan in laundry commercials – a deeper clean. I am not sure what it means, in terms of laundry. Either something is clean or it is not. I learned that from my mom. I would clean it, and it would look good to me, but my mother would say it was still dirty, and I would need to clean it again. Just about the time I figured out my mother's standards, I married a wife, and she made my mom look positively unhygienic. One more time, I learned that either it was clean – or it wasn't.
Our text actually speaks the same way. It talks about cleansed, and then it talks about more cleansed – but the reality is still that clean is clean – the comparative language is used for effect and instruction. So, who am I to argue with God's own words? Our theme this morning is "Cleansed from Dead Works."
The lesson is aimed at those who were raised and schooled in ancient Judaism. It speaks to those who witnessed and understood the sacrificial system of Israel, and who had been to the temple. They are the ones who would understand the High Priest talk and the sacrificial system and its meaning. If we want to appreciate what Hebrews is saying here, we have to be able to make the same sorts of connections in our minds that they would have made.
The comparison here is between the heavenly and the earthly. Hebrews says that Christ entered as High Priest into the greater and more perfect tabernacle, one not of this creation. He entered into the heavenly tabernacle. Every Jew knew that the tabernacle of Moses and the temple of Solomon were merely earthly representations, copies if you will, of the heavenly tabernacle. Each element and the size were representative of the reality of the temple in heaven. Is that temple a physical place, like the one on earth? Don't know. But the earthly reality reflects and represents the heavenly reality – and the heavenly is more real and substantial that the earthly whether it is a building or the reality of the glory and worship of God.
Jesus entered into this heavenly tabernacle, the heavenly holy of holies – the very presence of the Father – having made atonement for our sins. The entire life of Jesus from His conception in the Virgin Mary on and His suffering and death and burial are all part of that atoning sacrifice. The cross was the altar of sacrifice. It was the blood of the Son of God, shed for us, that gave meaning to the animal sacrifices throughout the ages. It was the Lamb of God that made the Passover Lamb significant – that caused God to choose the lamb for that sacrifice, and for the sacrifice of Yom Kippur – the day of atonement each year in the Jewish calendar.
It didn't work the other way around. The Jewish sacrificial system did not give meaning and substance to what Jesus was doing – He was the meaning and substance of the Jewish sacrificial system. He was the meaning of every holiday and every offering and every Sabbath. Those customs and those celebrations and those sacrifices were all teaching tools to prepare the minds of the Jews – and our minds – to understand the reality of Jesus and the cross and what it all means.
Jesus entered the presence of God with the blood of the sacrifice, just as every high priest had done since Aaron. But he did not enter with the covering of the blood of sacrificial goats and calves. He entered with the covering of His own blood – the very life-blood of the Son of God.
Hebrews makes the logical, theological case. If the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled worked for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the very Son of God be effective for cleansing? Of course, to follow this argument, you have to be aware of the sacrificial system and how the blood of these various animals was used. You have to go back in Exodus to the establishment of the covenant and how it was sealed. The people were sanctified and the original covenant was ratified through the blood of goats and bulls – and the blood of a heifer was sprinkled on the tabernacle and the ashes were kept for purification from sin in the divinely ordained processes of the original tabernacle.
If a mere animal could make such a difference, then how much more of a difference does the blood of the very Son of God make? That's the marvel of it! If the blood of a goat or the ashes of a heifer could cleanse anyone, and sanctify one to approach the altar of God or the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, what kind of power must the blood of Jesus Christ have? How deeply must that blood cleanse? How blessed and full of glory it would be to be sprinkled with the precious blood!
And you have been sprinkled! Of course, the blood of the animals got their power to cleanse from this life giving flood of the blood of Jesus. It was looking forward to Jesus and the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God that gave the power to cleanse to the Old Testament sacrifices. It was trusting in the promise of God to work out this salvation through Jesus that imparted such cleansing power.
How much more now? How much deeper a cleansing. This is not simply the cleansing of the flesh, as was the Old Testament cleansing. This cleansing goes right through to the spirit! This cleansing is a deeper clean. It cleanses us right to the spirit to cleanse your conscience from dead works so that you may and you will serve the living God! Ancient Israel constantly failed and waffled and turned away from the Law of God. It did not matter if we were speaking of the Law for the individual in the living of their daily life, or the Law of the Temple. Israel kept wandering. The people turned to idols stupidly and unfaithfully. The Temple priest abandoned the ancient practices time and time again – and finally even installed altars to other deities and the worship of false gods in the very temple of the Lord. They were not cleansed from works and enabled to serve God.
Their apostasy was a lesson to us. We have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ for a deeper clean. Your sins have been forgiven. The Law of God has been taken out of the way, between you and God, and no longer figures into the calculation of your salvation. Only Jesus and His life and His death are a factor. You have been set free from dead works – doing things just to look religious, or doing things to earn you way to heaven. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. Heaven is a gift which is poured out for all and received through faith. And you, who believe, have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, strengthening you and guiding you and giving you the power and desire and ability to serve God.
This doesn't mean that what you do doesn't matter – it means that what you do doesn't earn salvation. But if you are God's and you have been sprinkled with the blood of the very Son of God, and you have been cleansed clear through to the conscience – then what you do matters a great deal, and your works serve God. What you do, then, is vitally important.
Our text calls this new reality of forgiveness and life, set free from the Law, a new covenant – or, as it is better translated, a new testament. The death of Jesus Christ has changed the rules, so to speak. Once, faithfulness to God and trust in Him was indicated and revealed and measured by faithfulness and obedience to the Law. He who trusted God did what the Law said, trusting that it was best, and that God would bless their faithfulness. They brought their best to the sacrifice, trusting God to make the rest enough and more. They brought the tithe, trusting that God would make the other 90% sufficient and even abundant, just as God had promised. Faithfulness meant obedience and was measured by obedience.
In this new testament, because of Jesus, faithfulness means faith and trust, and is measured by faith. That means that we cannot see the faithfulness of others – only what they do. Hopefully, what they do is good and decent, but it not the measure of faithfulness or salvation. We don't earn salvation by what we do. It has been earned for us, and given to us, and we have received it through the faith we have, as through a pipe. Jesus did all of the work, and He mediates this salvation to us by grace through faith. That means He chooses us for His own good reasons, and makes us His own by the power of His Word preached – we call that whole thing "grace" – and having made us His own, He pours into us forgiveness, life, and salvation though the faith He has created in us.
So where do we come in? Where does our "stuff" – our works – come in? It comes in at the point of serving God. We live a witness. We support His work, His church, His pastors. We do missions, not as though God cannot do it without us, because He can and does. We do it to serve Him and please Him as loving children often do things to please their parents, just because they love Him. We give and serve and love with abandon, because Jesus had already done what we needed done, and given us all that we need so that those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
So we serve Christ, having received the deeper clean of the Gospel. So, step up and serve. Give freely, do what you do from a willing and free spirit. There is no law, but the law of love. Only love and the Holy Spirit should compel you to come, to go, to give of your time or talents or treasures. Freely you received, Jesus said in Matthew 10, freely give. You have been cleansed cleansed from dead works, that you may serve the living God.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)