Welcome to my forth installment of “Hebrews, Orthodoxy and Hope in Christ.” Let’s begin with scripture:
In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness.
And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him.
-Hebrews 9: 22, 27-28 (NLT)
My goal in this series of blogs is to help people construct, repair or reconstruct their theological foundations. Remember, theology is not a big abstract word; it is the very place our understandings of the Bible and the Christian faith collide with our everyday lives. I know people who feel God has let them down and as a result, have become shaken, drifted from or even forsaken the Christian faith. God doesn’t know how to let us down but theological constructs based in anything other than the Bible and rooted in anything other than the Christian faith will let you down eight days a week. Without an anchored faith, the fickle winds of culturally based and pop theology will always blow us where they will. That is why it is essential that we have good theological foundations and the greater the tumult around us, the more important our foundation.
22 In the Law of Moses, things were purified in blood I have spoken much about the brilliance of Judaism. The world had never seen anything like it. Not only did it bring monotheism and morality to the world; it had an answer for the problem of sin. Sin certainly can be evil but evil is an inadequate definition for sin in the Biblical sense. Sin is what separates us from God.
We might think of sin like plaque in our bloodstreams. The buildup begins on the edges of the arteries. If it builds to the place it occludes blood flow, you have a real and perhaps even fatal health crisis. If you can figure out a way to eradicate the plaque or reverse the process, the game has been changed exponentially. Judaism had a very specific way to deal with the removal of sin and it had everything to do with blood. Animals were ceremoniously sacrificed at the Jerusalem Temple and their blood symbolically washed away the sin of the people and of the community. The Day of Atonement was especially powerful because you could witness the scapegoat ,walking from the Temple to the desert, carrying away the sins of the people. The pomp, circumstance, liturgy, ceremony, sharp knives, flowing blood and roasted meat at the Temple provided a living metaphor for how God got the sin out of our blood. You could wake up a sinner and end the day forgiven. Shame, failure and guilt were washed away by the blood of the lamb!
Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness Forgiveness of sin through the shedding of blood was a breathtaking and life giving concept and the whole of Jewish worship during Jesus’s time was built upon it. Sin is a serious thing so it would stand to reason that eradicating sin would be a serious enterprise. Taking the life of an animal and turning said animal into food, leather and tools was a normal activity for the ancients. They thought little more about this process than we would think about getting a box of cereal from the pantry and some milk from the fridge. We live in a culture of people who eat chicken sandwiches but have never pulled the head off or the feathers out of a chicken. We want things antiseptic and convenient and we don’t want to think too much about what it takes to get us the things we want other than we have to buy them.
When I was a kid, I heard hundreds of parents say their goal was to, “Give their children more than they had.” This almost always had financial and material implications with the end game to make life “easier” than they had it. In most ways the cultural experiment failed because the idea that everything should come easy and be given to you is intrinsically flawed. What comes easy, goes fast and is seldom appreciated. The ancient Jews would have no part of that entitlement based, weak sauce, “here you go and hope you like it” kind of attitude. For them, hard things were hard because they should be hard and the sooner you realize they are hard, the better off you will be. Forgiveness of sin was a hard thing. The giving of life required the losing of life and shedding of blood.
22 Jesus is our advocate before God in heaven An advocate is someone who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy or pleads on behalf of someone else. It is different than being an activist; activists choose to see only one side of an issue. Advocates see all sides, they just choose to favor one of them. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ favors you and me. Last week we discovered that not only is Jesus the sacrificial lamb whose blood represents forgiveness of sin, he is the scapegoat who carries away our sin. Not only is Jesus the judge of our souls, he is also our advocate.
27 Each person will die once and then comes the judgement Romans reminds us that you are I are sinners and the, “Wages of sin is death BUT the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are given an opportunity to have our sins forgiven and to shift the trajectory of our right now, our tomorrow and our eternity. But there is a timeclock. The offer does not last forever. Each week in February, the Chic-Fil-A app gives me the opportunity to get a free chicken biscuit for breakfast. “In.” They load it on the app early in the week but if I don’t use it by the end of the week, it simply goes away. Salvation is a limited offer and the expiration date coincides with the end of your life on earth or the return of Christ; whichever comes first. The moment you die, your eternity is sealed. Many of Jesus parables deal with the theme of the master returning and the people being unprepared. They ALL end poorly. Our Methodist faith tradition offers these thoughts from its Book of Discipline.
Book of Discipline: Article XII
We believe that all men stand under the righteous judgment of Jesus Christ, both now and in the last day. We believe in the resurrection of the dead; the righteous to life eternal and the wicked to endless condemnation.
28 So Christ was offered once and for all as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many. Now let me tell you where Christianity is brilliant. Instead of sacrificing a bird, sheep or goat on a special day; on a cross at Calvary, Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for our sin once and for all. The ultimate sacrifice has been made for your time, my time and all-time! It is loaded on our app and as long as we are breathing air in time and space we are invited to receive it! What happens when the expiration date arrives?
Jesus will come again not to deal with our sins but to bring salvation to all who eagerly wait upon him The bringing of salvation this sense is the consummation of salvation history. In the Second Coming of Christ, the salvation made possible on Good Friday and won on Easter will be signed, sealed and delivered! The one unfulfilled promise of the Bible is that Jesus will return. My favorite promise of this nature is recorded in Matthew. Judas has betrayed and the High Priest has arrested Jesus. He is led from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem where he walks into a “fixed” trial but the paid witnesses can’t seem to get their stories together. Jesus just remains silent and lets them make a mess of things. Finally the High Priest asks, “Are you the Christ, the son of God?” Jesus breaks his silence to essentially say, “Yes and not only that, but you will one day see me sitting at God’s right hand in power and I will come back on the clouds. Today you are judging me. Tomorrow I will be judging you…for eternity.” Bam! Jesus came the first time to save us as a helpless infant in a manger but he will return to reign over us as the king of kings and the Lord of Lords!
When Jesus returns the expiration date has run out and the offer is over; God wins and those on the side of God win. The wicked fear that day, the righteous look forward to it but there is still time. Still time to receive what Jesus came to bring you.
A Prayer for Salvation
Thank for your loving me.
I repent of my sin and pray for your forgiveness.
Fill me to overflowing with the presence of Jesus.
Thank you for forgiving me, saving me and giving me the life Jesus came to bring.
I pray in Jesus’ strong name…
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church and has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.