Monday, May 14, 2018

Sermon for Easter 7: "The Great High Priest"

+ 7th Sunday of Easter – May 13th, 2018 +
Series B: Acts 1:12-26; 1 John 5:9-15; John 17:11-19
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

John 17 is known as Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, and for good reason. Jesus prayed this prayer on Maundy Thursday, the night before he laid down his life as a perfect sacrifice on the altar of the cross for us.

Just as the sons of Aaron in the Old Testament stood in the tabernacle before God’s presence and glory in the cloud, so too, the only begotten Son of God stands before his Father in his presence and glory. Unlike the priests of old, however, Jesus stands before God’s presence as God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; He not only possesses God’s glory, he is God’s glory in human flesh for us. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

As the priests of old prayed for Moses and the leaders of Israel, so too, Jesus prays for his disciples. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. 

As the priests of old interceded for the people and offered sacrifices for sin on their behalf, so too, Jesus prays for us, intercedes for us, and is our mediator before the Father. I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.
In the Old Testament, YHWH gave his people Israel priests, the tabernacle, and the sacrifices, not so they could earn or achieve holiness by their own work, but so they could receive and participate in YHWH’s holiness as a gift.

In many and various ways, the Old Testament priests point us to Jesus our Great High Priest. YHWH commanded Aaron and his sons, the Levites, to be consecrated and anointed with oil. They were chosen and set aside to serve YHWH and his people. They prayed, offered sacrifices, and declared YHWH’s promises in the tabernacle. They were clothed in holy garments, one of which, the ephod (a vest-like garment), had 12 precious stones fastened to it, one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel, a reminder that when the high priest went into the holy of holies (YHWH’s presence), he bore the names of the sons of Israel; they were YHWH’s treasured possession, his holy people.

At their ordination and consecration, YHWH commanded Aaron and his sons to make a sacrifice. The blood of the sacrifice was placed on the altar as a sign of cleansing and YHWH’s forgiveness of sin. The blood of the sacrifice was also placed on the right ear, right thumb, and right big toe of the priest.

Why the blood? Sounds gross. The life is in the blood. The blood was a sign of substitution. The life of an innocent animal in exchange for the guilty sinners – the priests and the people saved by blood. The Lord’s priests were called to hear God’s Word and be sanctified (set apart) by it. So, blood was put on his ear. They were called to use their hands for the service of YHWH and his people, so the blood sanctified (set them apart) for this task of sacrificial service. They were called to walk in the ways, words, and promises of YHWH, so their big toe was sanctified (set apart) with blood.

They were also commanded to eat unleavened bread and a portion of the flesh of the animal that had been sacrificed for atonement of sin. Throughout all this YHWH promised to meet with his people, dwell with them, and speak to them. The tabernacle was where he revealed and delivered his presence, his word, his glory, and his holiness. I will dwell among Israel and I will be their God, declared the Lord.

As Jesus prays his high priestly prayer, all of this is in the background. Jesus is our Great High Priest. Anointed for us. Sacrificed for us. Interceding and mediating for us.
Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 

Jesus is like the priests of old, only greater…Jesus is true God, begotten of his father from all eternity, but also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, and publicly declared God’s chosen, anointed one at his Baptism. Jesus not only bears the name of YHWH – I AM – but through his sacrificial death and resurrection he writes our names in his book of life. We are his treasured possession purchased and won by his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death for you. Our life is in his blood, shed for us on the cross, and poured out for us on the altar. Life by his blood. His death for our death. His life for our life. Jesus became the unsanctified, the unholy, the dead sinner on the cross to set you apart, give you his holy name, and raise you to life.

And now, Jesus our great high priest gives us his flesh to eat in the unleavened bread of holy communion and his holy blood to drink in the cup of salvation. Here in his sanctuary, everyone and everything is made holy by Jesus’ Word and promise. Jesus promises to meet with you, dwells with you, and speaks to you. “I will dwell among Israel and I will be your God,” declares the Lord.

This is what Jesus is praying for when he prays for his disciples, for his church, and for you in the high priestly prayer.

Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth. This is one of those prayers that’s easier prayed than done, at least for us. Kind of like parts of the Lord’s Prayer, are tough to pray if you think about it. Hallowed be Thy name. God’s name is certainly holy in itself, but we pray in this petition that it may be kept holy among us. That God’s Word is taught in truth and purity and that we live holy lives according to it.

There’s the rub. There’s where we fall on our knees and discover we’re broken. We hear the truth about our condition, that we’re so corrupted by the virus of sin that everything we do must be surrounded by Christ’s forgiveness. We don’t always speak the truth, and when we do, we don’t always do it in love. We sin in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and left undone, said and left unsaid. Our ears are not always tuned to God’s Word and the voice of our Great High Priest. Our hands are not always attending to work of love others. Our feet do not always walk in his ways, words, and promises.

This is why Jesus prays the high priestly prayer. He prays for us. And Jesus our great high priest does for us what we could never do for ourselves. He makes the sacrifice for sin. His ears perfectly hear the Father’s Word for you. His hands perfectly loved and served God and his neighbor by placing them on the cross for you. His feet walked in the ways of the Lord for you. Jesus sets you apart to be his own, cleanses you from all sin, gives you his holiness, and sanctifies you in his Word.

Jesus our great high priest calls us priests as well. We are priests in the order of Jesus the Great High Priest. You are priests in your daily vocations in the home, workplace, school, or church; with friends, families, neighbors, and complete strangers. Our lives are holy in Jesus who made you holy by his sacrificial death. We are living sacrifices, as Paul writes in Romans 12. As Jesus sent his disciples into the world, so too, he sends us in our various callings in life. But you are never alone. Jesus our great high priest is with us, by his holy Word that declares:

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 

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