Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, exactly one hundred years ago today, the armistice agreement went into effect, effectively ending World War I. Over 40 nations scattered around the world were involved in the war either by boots on the ground or financial support. Estimates vary as to the number of people killed, anywhere from 15-20 million, let alone the number of people, civilian and soldier, who were wounded. The war led to many major changes in world politics. The Ottoman Empire was brought to an end after over 600 years of power. It led to the development of the League of Nations, which is today the UN. Germany, resentful of the blame that fell on them, retreated into itself and focused largely on its own national identity. It even developed a new political party to express the people’s discontent with the cards dealt them. As many people described it at the time, it was “the war to end all wars.”
Except, it wasn’t. Just 21 years later, World War II began and it was worse than the first. Since WWI, the United States has been involved in about 40 other wars, some larger, some smaller. And that’s to say nothing about the hundreds of other wars going on around the world, fought by other nations, not involving the US. World War I may have been “the war to end all wars,” but one thing it did not do was end all wars. War after war after war is fought for the sake of justice and freedom, but it doesn’t last. Soldiers sacrifice themselves time and time and time again so that their cause might be upheld, but it doesn’t last. As much as we hope, pray, and fight for the end to all war, with the human heart the way that it is, war will always spring up again and again and again.
The book of Hebrews is a rather odd book of the Bible. Right off the bat, it’s anonymous. Whereas with the rest of the Bible, we have a pretty good guess of who wrote what, the author of the letter to the Hebrews has been debated since the time of the early church. And then you get into the content of the letter and it can catch you off-guard. The author of this book assumes that you know and care a lot about the Old Testament. Hardly a verse goes by without a quotation from, a discussion about, or an allusion to something in the Old Testament. And far from hitting only the big accounts that you know and love from the Old Testament, this author goes in deep, talking about the fixtures in the temple and the tabernacle and the way of worship and the priestly system and the sacrifices and the festival days. You know; it’s all the stuff we skip over in the Old Testament. But as you dig into the book of Hebrews and spend time understanding the Old Testament, your eyes will be opened to see just how much Jesus there is in the first two-thirds of your Bibles.
Today is no exception. Today, the book of Hebrews uses the High Priest’s activities on the Day of Atonement as a picture of Jesus. Now, I’m going to dig deep here for a moment, so hang in with me for just a minute. The Day of Atonement was the one day every year that the entire Temple or Tabernacle was re-purified. The High Priest of the year would purify himself, purify the rest of the priests, purify all the sanctuary items: the altar and the wash basin and the incense burner, etc. He would then go into the Holy of Holies, the place in the Temple that God’s presence actually resided. There in the room would be nothing but the Ark of the Covenant and the presence of God. This was the only day of the year that anyone could enter the Most Holy Place. This was not light task. Everyone feared making even one false move, thinking that God would strike the priest dead for his impiety. Some traditions even have this High Priest tying a rope around his waist before entering so that if he dies, they’d be able to pull his body out without entering into God’s presence and being killed as well. This Day of Atonement was an annual activity involving sacrifices, ritual purity, and holiness. Year after year after year, the Israelites observed this ceremony so that the temple would be pure, their sacrifices would count, and their sin be removed.
Enter the author of Hebrews. He writes, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are only copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. It wasn’t to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own. If that were the case, Christ would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The priest entered into a place on earth. Christ entered into heaven. The priest entered every year. Christ entered once. The priest offered animal sacrifices. Christ sacrificed himself. The Day of Atonement was meant to be the festival to end all festivals. Except it wasn’t. It needed to be repeated year after year after year.
Because of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, sin has been dealt with. The price has been paid. The work has been done. The punishment has been handed out. Christ entered once for all. It is finished. This means that absolutely nothing that you or I do has not already been forgiven by the death of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is no sin that you or I commit that will put us outside of the bounds of Christ. Your forgiveness is assured. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ. Not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword. In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
That being said, this does not give you permission to go sin up a storm. This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 6, “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” I love to sin; God loves to forgive sins. It’s a match made in heaven, right? “By no means. If you’re dead to sin, you’re dead to sin. And if you were baptized, you died with Christ and now live with Him. Your old self was crucified with Christ in order that you would no longer be a slave to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. So consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Yes, today we remember the veterans of this nation who have served their nation honorably. But those wars continue. And more important than our national identity, more important than our military heritage, more important than the repeated entry into the Holy of Holies, is the once and for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus Himself. He is our hope. He is our salvation. And “having been offered once to bear the sins of many, Christ will appear a second time, not to deal with sin again but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Our war is not the end of the story. Christ is the end of the story. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell