November 11th, 2018, Pastor Galen
Psalm 127; Hebrews 9:24-28
In the classic 1961 film (and the 1998 remake) “the Parent Trap,” two identical twins who had been separated at birth due to their parents’ divorce meet coincidentally at summer camp when they are eleven years old. When they discover that they are twins, they hatch a plan to switch identities so each twin can meet the respective parent she’s never known, with the ultimate goal of reuniting their father and mother.
It’s an interesting plot and a very entertaining film, but I’ve often been intrigued by the film from a cinematography and acting standpoint, since both of the identical twins were played by the same actress (Hayley Mills in the 1961 version, and Lindsey Lohan in the 1998 version). I’ve often wondered what it was like for the actress to film each scene playing one of the twins, and then to go back and film the exact same scene again taking on the perspective and personality of the other twin.
Day of Atonement
In Hebrews 9, Jesus plays multiple roles in the same scene. Jesus is the High Priest entering into the Holy of Holies (the holiest place in the temple), and Jesus is also the sacrifice who was given on our behalf. In other places in the Bible, Jesus is referred to as the fulfilment of the temple itself, and of course we know that Jesus is the manifestation of God’s presence among us.
The author of Hebrews is building a case to show us that Jesus is everything, that Jesus is sufficient, that Jesus is all we need.
The scene that’s evoked here is the ceremony of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when once a year the high priest would enter into the innermost room of the temple, called the Holy of Holies and offer a sacrifice on behalf of the whole nation for all the wrong things that the people had done that year.
The Holy of Holies was seen as the place where God’s spirit dwelt, and the place was so holy that only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies, and only once a year on this Day of Atonement. (There is a tradition that they would tie a rope around the ankle of the High Priest so that in case something happened to the Priest while he was in the Holy of Holies, they could drag him out without someone else having to go in for fear that that person would die from being in God’s presence).
Before even entering into the Holy of Holies, the high priest would bathe and put on a pure white linen robe to symbolize repentance. He would then sacrifice a bull and a ram as a sin offering for himself and the other priests since they were also in need of forgiveness, and then the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with incense and sprinkle the blood of the bull all around the Holy of Holies.
The high priest would then cast lots to choose between two live goats that had been brought by the people. One of these goats would be killed and offered as a sin offering on behalf of the whole nation. The other goat was allowed to remain alive. The high priest would place his hands on the goat and confess the sins of the whole nation and then someone would take that live goat and set it free in the wilderness. By the way, this where we get the term “scapegoat,” because the goat was seen to carry away the sins of all the people.
I’m sure that this was in ways in many ways a very beautiful and meaningful ceremony. The problem was that since it had to be done every year, the people seemed to live in constant fear that God might choose not to forgive their sins if the ceremony wasn’t done properly, or that God might wipe them all out if the sacrifice wasn’t pleasing and acceptable to God. To many people in that time, God was seen as distant, and was a vengeful, wrathful God, just waiting to punish them if and when they got out of line.
Jesus: High Priest and Sacrifice
But then along comes Jesus. Jesus is God’s Son, Jesus is God in the flesh, come to dwell among us. Jesus lived a perfect life, he loved everyone, including those on the margins of society, the lost, the forgotten. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbors, to treat others the way we would want to be treated. He performed miracles, healed the sick, delivered those who were facing demonic oppression. But Jesus was eventually killed, put to death on a cross. He loved us so much that he gave his own life for our sake.
And so the author of Hebrews says that in dying on the cross and rising again, Jesus takes the place of this whole sacrificial system. We don’t need a high priest anymore to enter into the Holy of Holies every year to ask for God’s forgiveness on behalf of all the people, because Jesus has already done that! We don’t need a sacrificial goat or a scapegoat, because Jesus has already died in our place and carried away all of our sins.
Because Jesus was perfect and wasn’t deserving of punishment he didn’t need to offer a sacrifice for his own sins, and so Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. We no longer need to sacrifice animals, nor do we need to worry about whether God will forgive us, because we know that Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect. It was a once and done deal. We don’t need to live in fear, we don’t need to feel like God is distant, because in Jesus God has come close to us.
And so Jesus is the High Priest, he is the temple where God dwells, he is the sacrifice, and Jesus has given us his Spirit to dwell among us. Jesus is all we need. In Jesus, we see that God is not a God who is just waiting to squash us when we get out of line. In Jesus we see that God is loving, God is merciful, God is willing and waiting to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to us.
“I don’t know how anyone makes it without God”
This past Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to visit a dear member of our church who is recovering from hip surgery. We had a wonderful time visiting, she showed me some artwork she was working on, and we even sang some karaoke together. When I was getting ready to leave, I prayed for her, and I commented on how much she’s gone through over the past month-and-a-half since she broke her hip, and how wonderfully she’s recovering. She turned to me and said “you know, I don’t know how anyone makes it without God!”
You know, I don’t either. But you know, so many of us have been Christians for so long, that we can’t even imagine or remember what it’s like to not have God in our life. Sure, we go through difficult times, and I’m sure many of us experience doubts from time to time. But in the end, when tragedy strikes, or when we are going through a rough time in life, Jesus is right there with us, even in our darkest moments.
But Jesus is more than just a friend to get us through the dark times. Jesus is not just a therapeutic, calming presence in our life.
The author of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is the difference between life and death. Jesus is the one who brings salvation, the one who gave his own life and died in our place. And Hebrews tells us that Jesus “appear[s] for us in God’s presence” (Hebrews 9:24). Jesus is constantly advocating on our behalf, interceding for us, and cheering us on.
In other words, we can’t make it without Jesus.
Sure, we can try to do it on our own. We can try to go through life, trying to be perfect in our own strength, but we’re always going to fall short. Like the Psalmist says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1a). We can try to do it without God, but eventually we’re going to fail.
Remembering our Baptism
This morning I want to encourage us to cling to Jesus. In the midst of all of the craziness of life, when it can feel like we’re being pulled in so many different directions, let’s remember that Jesus is all sufficient. Let’s not try to make it on our own. Let’s allow God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness to wash over us again and again.
We’re going to respond to the Word by singing “Spirit of the Living God.” And then after that, we’re going to celebrate the sacrament of baptism as we welcome a new member into the body of Christ. And as we do that, let us all remember our baptism, and renew together our commitment to Christ and to the Church.