Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (August 30, 2015)

HEBREWS 12:18-24
YOU HAVE COME TO A NEW COVENANT.
  
In the name + of Jesus. 

     Even Moses was afraid.  So terrifying was the sight at Mt. Sinai that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”  (Hebrews 12:21)  The Lord had appeared to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai.  Even though his glory was hidden with a thick, black cloud, thunder, and lightning, the people trembled before him.  Since the Lord was on the mountain, no one was allowed to touch it; for it had become holy ground.  Nothing sinful or mortal was allowed to defile it.  Even if a sheep had strayed onto the mountain, it would have to be stoned to death.  The people of Israel heard it and saw it, and trembled because of it.  The Lord himself spoke the Ten Commandments.  No one dared to speak back to God about his commands.  Rather, they pleaded that God say no more to them lest they perish in his presence.  Even Moses, to whom God had appeared before, was afraid.
     Perhaps you have thought that God would do the world a favor if he appeared again in such glorious fashion.  If God could make the whole world cower, they would listen to him.  They would believe what he says.  They would get in line and behave.  It sounds like a good plan.  But the people who stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai were not pagans who were being corralled into the kingdom of God.  These people had been claimed as God's holy nation.  They did not become a holy nation because God filled them with terror.  It was because they were graciously redeemed by a loving God.
     The Bible says: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10)  It is right to humble yourself in reverent fear before God.  He is holy; we are corrupt.  He is eternal; we will die.  He is omnipotent; we are frail.  He can do as he pleases; we are victims of circumstance.  But the fear of the Lord is only the beginning of wisdom.  You have not come to church to cower and tremble by God's holiness; you have come to be comforted by God's promises, mercy, and grace.  You have come to a new covenant.
     You have come to a covenant in which God redeems sinners and reconciles you to himself.  You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering... (Hebrews 12:22)   Mount Zion is where the Lord revealed the full measure of his love for sinners.  God did not come to you in his bare glory.  Rather, he hid his glory in humility.  He hid his power in weakness.  Jesus revealed both the love of God and the wrath of God in his sufferings and death.  Jesus was brutally beaten, utterly rejected, and divinely cursed for every sin ever committed.  He consumed the full cup of God's wrath for every sinner on earth.  If you want to know what God thinks of sins, look to the crucified Christ—for he bears your curse.
     On the other hand, if you want to know what God thinks of sinners, look to the crucified Christ—for he bears the curse for you.  God did not desire the death of sinners.  And since sins must be paid for, God sent his Son to make the payment for you.  Forsaking and damning his own Son is the extent that God would go to in order to deliver you out of your sin and guilt, to spare you the agony of death and judgment, and to bring you into an everlasting kingdom of peace.
     You have come to a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24)  The blood of Abel was spilled by his brother, Cain.  Cain despised Abel because Abel was considered righteous by God and Cain was not.  Rather than repent, Cain resolved to get rid of the one who reminded him of his sin.  So Cain killed his brother.  When God confronted Cain for his murder, the Lord said to him, “What have you done?  The voice of your brother's blood is crying to the me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10)  Abel's blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies.  It demanded that justice be done because of Cain's blatant disregard for God's word.  That would be fair.  One who breaks God's word should pay the price for his sins.
     Should it be any different for us?  We have also sinned against God and have shown disregard for his word.  Perhaps our greatest sin is how little we are bothered by our sins.  We can go through each day dismissive of our sins.  We may even think that since we think little of them, God thinks little of them.  But God takes his word very seriously.  And God does not think it is little when we turn away from his word.  God is not the one with the problem when we are the lawbreakers.  We are right to fear the Lord and his wrath.  Repent, recognizing that taking God seriously is the beginning of wisdom.
     And now, you have come to a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:24)  God's justice was doled out at the cross.  His wrath was poured out on Jesus so that his mercy can be poured out upon you.  Justice has been done.  Jesus bore your guilt and, therefore, took your punishment.  For that reason, the blood of Jesus does not call for revenge.  Quite the contrary, it proclaims pardon.  The blood of Jesus purifies you of all sin.  You have been cleansed by the holy blood of Jesus in your baptism.  You are nurtured and consoled by the blood of Jesus at the Lord's Supper where we come together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven for the festal gathering.
     You have come to a new covenant in which God does not pile upon demands that you were never able to meet to begin with.  Jesus is not a new law-giver.  He does not bestow new or more difficult commandments for you to keep.  This new covenant is the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is God's grace by which God bestows his gifts and you receive good things from him.  You have come to the new covenant which includes you in the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven … and (among) the spirits of the righteous made perfect... (Hebrews 12:23)
     When the epistle to the Hebrews was first written, it was not an easy time to be a Christian.  For confessing their faith in Jesus, for gathering for worship, and for living godly lives which honored God and served their neighbors, these believers faced persecution, imprisonment, exile, and potentially even martyrdom.  There was great temptation to turn from Jesus in order to live an easier, happier life.  The writer to the Hebrews encouraged them to continue in what they had been given.  Whatever deals they thought they could make with the world would never forgive their sins, deliver them from the grave, or open the gates of heaven.  God's judgment of them was better than any opinions their fellowman would ever have of them.  Though the world might despise them, God assured them that they were his holy people, children of a new covenant.
     Like these ancient Christians, you also have come to a new covenant.  Perhaps the world has not been as hostile to us as it was to them, but neither do we find it particularly welcoming.  The worst we have had to endure has been mockery and maybe the loss of friends.  Perhaps our greatest battle is against our own sinful flesh which is not bothered by our sins but rather is enthralled by them.  The flesh will always insist a happier, easier life is to give in to sins and to not be bothered by God's commands.  But the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.  It is wise to fear the Lord and repent at his word now so that we will not be destroyed by him later.
     But God's wisdom is fully revealed not in his holy Law, not at Mt. Sinai.  God's wisdom is fully revealed at Mt. Zion, where the Lord has provided forgiveness for your sins and entry to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.  You have come to the new covenant where the Lord does not scare or threaten you into obedience.  Rather, he pardons you of all your disobedience and makes you a holy nation—eager to do what is good, willing to suffer for it, and determined to remain faithful at all times and through all trials.  For you are the Lord's people.  Just as the Lord was eager to redeem you, so also he is zealous for preserving you both now and forevermore.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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