Preached on Celebration Sunday at Christ the Lord
Today is Celebration Sunday at Christ the Lord! The thing is, though, we have to wait for a while to see exactly what it is that we are celebrating, right? What will our new church – our new sanctuary or Holy Place – look like? We have to wait and see, right? We have to first wait and see if we can even build anything at this time in the first place. And then once we find out if we can build anything, we have to wait and see how much we can build. And then once we find out how much we can build, we have to wait and see if that will include a completely expanded sanctuary. And then once we find out if we can build a completely expanded sanctuary, we have to wait and see what it will look like. And then once we find out what it will look like, then we have to wait to start building it, and we have to wait to find out exactly how we will worship in the meantime, and there are probably other things that we will have to wait and see about as time goes on. And, yet, despite all the waiting, we are celebrating, because no matter what we find out we can or cannot do in the years ahead, of whatever earthly space we use as our worship space, we can say, “It Will Always Be a Most Holy Place.”
The reason you and I can say that and celebrate that is because of what God tells us in our lesson for today, when he speaks about a couple of different “Most Holy Places” – and about some waiting you and I are doing which does not have an uncertain result at all. That is what our last verse – verse 28 in the third last line of our lesson – tells us: “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” For a few minutes let’s see why that kind of waiting by you and me means all kinds of celebrating for you and me every day of our lives, because every day of our lives through the one-time sacrifice of Jesus Christ we are in a place of which we can say, “It will always be a Most Holy Place.”
So on this Celebration Sunday – which is also the Sunday of the church year we call “Last Judgment” – why are we talking about a Most Holy Place? Do you remember what is meant by the Most Holy Place in the Bible? It is what God is talking about in verse 25, when he said this: “Nor did he (Jesus) enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.” What does all that mean? The Most Holy Place was the most special part of the temple of the Jews in Israel before Jesus came to earth. Inside it was very dark and almost empty, except for what was called the ark of the covenant, in which were the Ten Commandments and on top of which were a couple of angels – called Cherubim. And it wasn’t that large. It was thirty feet by thirty feet by thirty feet. Maybe picture it this way, if this helps: It basically went from the back wall behind me to about the fourth pew; and it went pretty much from the pastor’s chair right here to the pastor’s chair over there; and it was about twice as high as the ceiling above me. And that ark of the covenant – that holy box — wasn’t very big at all, either. It was smaller than our altar here. But what was large were the two cherubim. Made of pure gold, the wings of the angels extended the full thirty feet from wall to wall – touching in the middle on top of the ark of the covenant, which was the place of God’s holy, awesome presence among his people, from which he went out to lead his people into battle. It was a Most Holy Place. It was the Most Holy Place, separated from the regular temple by a great, large colorful curtain – the one that got torn in two the day our Savior died.
And it was beyond that curtain that the High Priest of the people could enter – and was commanded to enter – once a year every single year in order to purify that place by sprinkling on the ark of covenant and everywhere else the blood of an animal that had been sacrificed for that very reason.
The problem in our lesson was that some people wanted to go back to that Most Holy Place as their place of worship, rather than realizing that everything about that place had been fulfilled and was over. They were turning their back on Jesus, even though they had been told about him and what he had done. The one and final sacrifice was done – and the one and final High Priest Jesus Christ had come – and had purified with the blood of his sacrifice not just some special furniture, but the people of God – people like them, and people like you and me. And that is why wherever we worship him – in a building like this – maybe in a different building some day – in our school – in our homes – at our place of work – on a park bench – wherever we thank and praise the one who sprinkled his blood on me, of that place I can say, “It will always be a most holy place.”
And that is great, because there is no way it should be that way, right? If we should be waiting for anything, it should be for a judgment that should scare us half to death. Verse 27 near the end says this: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” Why does the Bible say we are “destined” to die? That is certainly not a happy thought at all, but it goes back to the kind of thing we say almost every Sunday in this Most Holy Place – and which we need to say every single day in whatever place we find ourselves – as we did say earlier this morning: “We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve him as his dear children. But we have disobeyed him and deserve only his wrath and punishment.”
We cannot understand why it is great to stand in the presence of God in any Most Holy Place if we do not understand how desperately we needed someone to come into our space and take our place once for all. When Jesus offered himself once for all, he was doing that because he let himself go through the temptations of all, and he had placed on himself the sin of all. When he sprinkled his blood, it was not because he had lied. It was because you and I had lied. When he sprinkled his blood, it was not because he had been selfish or gossipy or mean. It was because you and I had been selfish or gossipy or mean. When he sprinkled his blood, it was not because he had done anything wrong. It was because in God’s sight you and I had done everything wrong.
And yet that blood of the Lamb of God was sprinkled on me, just as certainly as the blood of those animals of old were sprinkled on the ark of the covenant and on the cherubim and on the floor and the walls time and time and time again. The blood of the Lamb of God was sprinkled on me to let me be certain that though I fall time and time again in ways that make me ashamed to even lift up my eyes to the skies, still God in heaven above has his dear Son at his side, who is telling him time and time again what he did for me to make me his own, just as the opening verse tells us, “For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” Jesus Christ right now is in the Most Holy Place of heaven and talking to God on your behalf, letting you know without a doubt, that wherever you are standing as a child of God, it will always be a most holy place.
And that is why we wait for what is to come. The only reason we have any reason to make plans on earth to further God’s kingdom here is because we know what is awaiting us when it is time for us to enter the kingdom that is eternal there. The judgment that should be ours was taken by Jesus, and the judgment that will be ours will be given by Jesus. “So Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
I know that we don’t spend every waking hour waiting for Jesus to open the heavens and tell us it’s time for the Last Judgment, but many of you have had points in your life where I know you have said, “Please come, Lord Jesus – any time. I have had enough.” And for everyone else, make sure to take the time – in some Most Holy Place, whether in church or school or your home or place of work or that park bench – make sure to take the time to think about the place where you are now standing – and the place where you someday will – because the more you and I take the time to think about everything that that in involved in that, the more we will look forward to it and the more we will just find ourselves waiting for it – and finding many reasons to celebrate as we wait.
That’s what we are doing today at Christ the Lord. Whatever new we end up celebrating on this piece of space will be worth the wait – whether nothing or small or great — because what we will without question end up celebrating in the heavenly space will without question be worth the wait – because we will see our Most Holy Jesus coming to take us to the absolutely Most Holy Place there could possibly be. Just wait and see! Amen.