Last week you might recall was the Sunday of End time that we call Last Judgment and on that Sunday Pastor Kolander reflected on verses from Hebrews chapter 9 and spoke of the comfort we find in Jesus, that he came into our space to take our place, to be our Savior. This Sunday, as you heard at the beginning of our service, is Saints Triumphant. It’s on this day that we steal a glimpse of heaven. What do we see? In our first lesson we saw that, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens…like the stars for ever and ever.” What else do we see? In our gospel lesson we heard, that “all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live.”
And that right there leads us to ask a question. How are any of us sitting here today good? And if we are uncertain about whether or not we are good how can be we certain that we are among those whom we call saints triumphant? It’s these questions, it’s this uncertainty that makes these verses from Hebrews 10 so comforting as we find in them that there is not sliver of uncertainty in certain victory.
The verses themselves though start out with uncertainty, we read verse 11: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices.” Those words right there really sum up nicely what went on daily at God’s temple. At God’s temple 24 teams of priests stood at the ready, and they were all busy! There were daily sacrifices in the morning and in the evening. In addition to these, there were the weekly Sabbath sacrifices. And of course, there were the yearly sacrifices for all the annual festivals and commemorations throughout the year. And these were only the group sacrifices, there were also the individual offerings, the Burnt offerings, Fellowship offerings, Guilt Offerings, Sin Offerings, and Grain Offerings.
But what did all these offerings guarantee? What certainty did these sacrifices give to the priests who made them and the people who asked for them? Surely, such a gruesome, and, at times, expensive sacrifices to the Lord would bring some certainty to the people? But instead all we find is uncertainty. We hear those words again from verse 11, “Day after day” and “again and again” sacrifices had to be made. Why? – the end of verse 11 – because those sacrifices could “never take away sins.”
It’s right there that we learn something that I hope none of us ever forget. There is no certainty in the things we do. I mean look! God instituted this incredible sacrificial system in the Old Testament, all the blood, all the work, the temple, and yet none of it fully removed the sin from anyone. None of it could be done once and then never had to happen again. It was a vicious unending cycle, and it must have been quite humbling. Here God held out things that his people could do to make payment for sin, but it just was never enough. And that brings us back to our question from earlier: How are any of us sitting here good?
That question gets you examining yourself and your own experiences because we realize we don’t make sacrifices like that anymore. I don’t stand here with a knife and sacrifice on your behalf. So what do we do? What do I do to make myself good in my God’s sight? What can I do to be certain that I am one of those saints triumphant, one of God’s children, who will join him in heaven? And, and, maybe that makes us think about our daily interactions with others and how we behave: the things we say and do. Perhaps, we evaluate how strong we believe in God and his promises. What’s in my heart, how is my prayer life, my devotional life, am I doing everything the way God would want me to do them? And those things become our sacrifices.
But then we hear again the echo of those words from verse 11, “Day after day…again and again.” And we start to realize we’re just likes those priests of old. We’ve just replaced physical altar sacrifices with word and deed and thought sacrifices. But, you know, if that, all that blood, all that sacrifice, couldn’t fully earn God’s favor and win complete forgiveness. If that still left people with uncertainty and doubt, how in the world could we ever think that there is something that I can do today that could and will earn God’s favor – win me forgiveness – that would be the height of arrogance. God those sacrifices you instituted were never good enough, but my sacrifices, my good deeds, my good life, this you will come to accept. Will he really? You have to wonder, don’t you? And that right there is the problem. It’s the uncertainty.
And so maybe there is a different question that needs to be asked. Maybe we need to ask ourselves not “What’s in my heart and what have I done?” Let’s set aside those questions that turn us inward because there is only uncertainty there. A certainty of salvation, certainty of faith, certainty of being a saint triumphant never come from looking inside – I mean never – for we are all, each of us, a sinner. Instead let’s look outward. Let’s ask instead “What has God done and what is in his heart?” It’s in those questions that we find not a sliver of uncertainty, but a certainty of victory. We see that certainty in verses 12 and 13.
Verse 12, “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Here we find what is in God’s heart: a sacrifice. One that didn’t need to happen again and again, day after day, but only once for all time. The priest who made that sacrifice was his very own Son, Jesus. And if we wonder why it had to be him and it could never be us all we need to do is to think of a key and its lock.
It is the strange shape of a particular key that makes it fit a particular lock. The lock is our human need. We needed a substitute, a sacrifice to live an actual human life in our place and get it right all the ways we always get it wrong. Then we needed him to die a single, human death, that would somehow be worthy enough to buy back not just one life but every life. If death were to hold him and defeat him, life would never be ours.
For him then to be that bridge between us and a God who demands perfection, he would have to truly be one of us in every way and, at the same time, some one far greater. This is the peculiar shape of the lock. The only key is Christ. And we find that key on the pages of the Scriptures, in the book we call the Bible, in the verses before us today.
Here we see our Savior who has taken away all our sin in one fell swoop and now in heaven he sits “at the right hand of God” waiting “for his enemies to be made his footstool.” Jesus now waits in heaven knowing he has conquered sin and death for you. He waits knowing one day he will return to bring you home to him, verse 14, “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
It is in that verse that the writer to the Hebrews makes clear that those who are set apart as perfect have been made complete, having all that they need. If you ever wonder whether being forgiven through Jesus is enough, this verse from God’s Word says it all, “Jesus has brought you to a state of completion.” What more can be said? Maybe still you question, “I may be perfect in God’s sight, but surely my salvation must depend to some degree on completely overcoming each of my sinful attitudes?” No. What God has done for you has brought you to a position of completion. Even still you can’t help but doubt, “But while I may be set apart and perfect in God’s sight, I still feel, when old sins come back to haunt me, like maybe I’m missing something.” No. What God has done for you has brought you to a position of completion. “Buy, wait, though I know I have wronged God and though I hear you saying that all is forgiven, it just seems like there can never be peace for me as long as I remain a sinner.” No. What God has done for you has brought you to a position of completion.
This is the gospel. The good news that comes only through Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior. Here there is a perfect peace and in this perfect peace you find certainty. You have absolute certainty that all is well between you and God because of the one sacrifice of Jesus. You then are a saint triumphant. There is no sliver of uncertainty in this message. There is no doubt. There is only a victory and it is given to you.
So we go back one last time to our original question: “How are any of us sitting here today good?” But now instead of trying to answer that question on our own we, with faith – genuine, true, and alive – we answer by pointing to the cross and saying only one name, “Jesus.” Then we hear these last words from our lesson, “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” And now we know, we trust with certainty, that Christ’s sacrifice has made me perfect – my sins are no more – and, yes, I am that saint triumphant. God be praised for giving us this certainty. Amen.