Friday, April 22, 2011

Sermon on Hebrews 9_11-22, Maundy Thursday, "Last Will and Testament"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Tonight we gather on the night called Maundy Thursday. As a child, it always confused me because it sounded like Monday Thursday. But the word Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum—command. On this “Command” Thursday, Jesus gave His disciples the command to celebrate the New Supper He had instituted: “do this in remembrance of me.” Also He renewed their call to obey the command that they love one another. Tonight is the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest. At the Last Supper, Jesus warned that one of them (Judas) would betray Him, and that the sign of who was the betrayer would be that he dipped his bread together with Jesus. It was a night of concern and confusion for the disciples. What did He mean that He was going to be betrayed? What was about to happen?

When Judas left the upper room, some thought he was going to buy something for the feast, or give something for the poor (John 13:29). They didn’t realize the chain of events that were about to take place. Although Jesus clearly stated on several occasions that He would be handed over to the chief priests and leaders, be accused, put to death, and then raised, His disciples still didn’t get it. Even on the night when the last pieces of the plot were falling into place. But Jesus carefully preserved this last hour alone with His disciples. Though they wouldn’t understand it now, what would happen that night would be critical for understanding His life and mission on earth. He was soon to shed His blood for the world. He was stepping into His role as our Great High Priest, as the reading from Hebrews 9 tells us.

What do I mean about Him becoming our Great High Priest? The central activity of priests in the Old Testament was to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. Sacrifices to cover the sins of the people, sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, sacrifices to cleanse the people of uncleanness. Sacrificing animals seems completely foreign and perhaps even brutal to us. Why should an innocent animal have to die for the people? But that’s precisely the point. The sacrifices were an ongoing object lesson in the life of the Old Testament believers, that sin had a cost and a price had to be paid—the price of a life. And the greater lesson lay in the fact that the innocent died in place of the guilty. From the skinning of the first animal to cover Adam and Eve after their first sin, to the sacrifices commanded by God to Moses and the Israelites, the message remained the same—an innocent substitute died in place of the guilty.

It was a sign of God’s mercy. Instead of applying the direct and immediate punishment that our sins would deserve, God delayed punishment and transferred it to the animal. It was a costly thing for the people to make a sacrifice, but it meant that they would be spared. While God required the sacrifices in the Old Testament, the blood of animals was ultimately unable to purify the people from sin. The writer of Hebrews explains that they had to be repeated over and over. But on this night when Jesus was betrayed, He prepared His 12 Jewish disciples for a dramatic change in their faith. Or rather than a change, a dramatic fulfillment of their faith. After what Jesus was about to do, the whole system of sacrifices would become unnecessary, completed, finished. One of the central parts of their Old Testament faith would be brought to a completion, and would not continue. Jesus was the climax, the fulfillment of all those Old Testament sacrifices. He was to become the One Perfect Sacrifice—the only worthy innocent substitute, that would die in place of the guilty. All the Old Testament sacrifices pictured and looked forward to this One Final Act where that endless stream of sacrifices would be brought to a close. Jesus was preparing to offer His holy blood, the blood of the Only Son of God, to be the cleansing of all humanity—to shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.

Why His death and the shedding of His blood? Because Jesus was establishing a covenant. Not just an ordinary covenant, or agreement between two parties, but a testament—a last will and testament. And as the writer to the Hebrews explains, even in the case of a regular person’s will, or last will and testament—the death of the person who made it must first be established before the will takes effect. When a person writes a will, their possessions or inheritance aren’t distributed before they die, but only after they die, and in accordance with their wishes. A will can’t be changed or altered after the person dies. Jesus was establishing His last will and testament on the night when He died. He was making a new covenant, in His blood, for the forgiveness of sins. He was making His last will and testament for His disciples—those who believed in Him. His will needed to be sealed and put into force by His death.

So what was that will or new testament that He made? It was this: “Take eat, this is my body, which is given for you. Drink of it all of you, this cup is the new testament in my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus gave a new and lasting covenant, sealed in the shedding of His own blood, for the forgiveness of our sins. Those who eat His body and drink His blood participate in the forgiveness that came through the innocent substitute that died for our sins. In the shed blood of a perfect, divine and human man, Jesus Christ, God granted the pardon of the whole sinful world, and that all who have faith in His Son Jesus, would have the forgiveness of sins. His last will and testament grants us the inheritance of all Jesus’ spiritual blessings that attend the forgiveness of sins—namely eternal life and salvation. In Jesus we experience the fulfillment of all the Old Testament sacrifices: God’s grace in sparing us the penalty of our wrongdoing, and blessing us instead through His Son.

Now He has given this command to His church: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We remember through doing just like the Israelites remembered their rescue out of Egypt by doing the Passover meal—the meal that was eclipsed into greater meaning when Jesus instituted this New Supper on the night of the Passover. So that one day later, when His body hung on the tree of the cross for our sins, His disciples might see the sinless Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. And so we do this in remembrance of Jesus, week by week calling to our minds and to our mouths and to our hearts, how Jesus gave His life for ours, so that we might be the inheritors of His last will and testament. But the marvelous ending to the establishing of this will and testament, is that while Jesus’ death put it into effect, His resurrection from the dead ensured that we will share the joys of His kingdom together with the One who so graciously willed them to be ours forever. So as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim His death until He comes again and brings us to that heavenly kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

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