25th Sunday after Pentecost – 11/14/2021
A special day is drawing near. You can see evidence of it all over town. Merchants have already put up unique decorations and displays in their store windows. Neighborhood homes are being decorated. A level of excitement is beginning to build among the children. Yes, even though we have not observed Thanksgiving Day yet, the signs are everywhere that people are already anticipating the arrival of Christmas Day.
But, as our texts today remind us, another more urgent and important day is drawing near. But few, if any, seem concerned about or even aware of it. Ironically, it is very much tied to Christmas. Like Christmas, it is the day of the Lord's coming to us. However, this day, which looms on the horizon for our whole world, differs significantly from that first Christmas Day when the Son of God came to our earth as a little child of Bethlehem. For you see, this day approaching is when the Son of God returns, still as God and man in one person, to judge heaven and earth.
No one seems to be getting ready to celebrate this day of the Lord's coming. And this is as it should be; after all, it is a day of eternal consequences. It should be approached with caution and trepidation. After all, this is a day of reckoning for all people. Everyone will be summoned before the Eternal Judge. This day will mean the time of grace has come to an end. All procrastination to "get right with God" will be no more. As the Holy Writer had stated in the previous chapter, "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (9:27). This day will forever alter not only the way we live but also where we will live for the rest of our lives.
How should you and I, as Christians, relate to this day that is drawing near? Should we ignore it as though it will not affect us? Should we be afraid? Should its coming influence our behavior as we wait for its arrival?
Certainly, godly fear ought to be the order of the day for all of us. Because, as Holy Scripture assures us, believers and unbelievers alike will be forced to look upon Jesus Christ on that day. For all judgment has been given to Jesus, the sacrificial Lamb, who was pierced for the sins of the whole world.
You can bet it will be hard for even us, who have believed in Jesus as our Savior, to look into the eyes of this One who so lovingly gave His whole life in sacrifice for our sins. It will be difficult not to feel a sense of grief and sadness that we caused him such pain. It would be tough to avoid an overwhelming sense of reverent fear that we would be getting what we deserve because of our sins if it were not for His immense love and grace. But imagine what those who pierced Him, denied Him, and dismissed Him as irrelevant to their lives will feel when they look into the eyes of the crucified one! They will want to flee from Him in their terror. As the Book of Revelation describes, they will want to cry out to the hills and mountains to fall on them to hide them from the wrath of this Lamb!
However, there will be no place to hide when that day arrives. There will be no more opportunities to repent. As the holy writer also states in a few verses following our text, for those who have not believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, there will only be "a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."
But I'd like to return to you and me, who have been baptized into Jesus Christ. We have confessed Him as our Savior. Should our hearts only be filled with holy fear and awe?
Not in the least! The holy writer assures us that we can greet the approaching day of the Lord's return with all confidence, boldness, and assurance. He gives two reasons for this. Listen as I read the first few verses to you again. "Therefore, brothers, since we have the confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God... " (Heb. 10:19-21).
The Old Covenant sacrificial system instilled in the hearts and minds of God's people the need for two things to enter the Holy Place of God: to stand in His presence. You need to be sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice for sin and a high priest consecrated by God to intercede for you.
The good news for you and all other believers in Jesus Christ is that God, in His grace, has given you both of those things in Jesus Christ. God has given you better sacrificial blood than goats and lambs and a better high priest than the priests of Aaron. God has given the blood of His only begotten Son to atone for your sin, and this same Son will be your High Priest. Jesus is both your victim (sacrifice) and your priest. You could not have been given anything better or more sure to give you access to God's Most Holy Place. Jesus' shed blood is the very holy blood of God Himself. There is no sin that it cannot atone for! There is no more precious blood or more valuable commodity in the universe to redeem you from sin, death, and hell.
Likewise, you can have no more extraordinary High Priest with God than Jesus. Jesus' flesh is the curtain through which one enters the holy place of God. The Son of God has gone through that curtain to bring the blood of the sacrifice for your sins and sprinkled it before the very eyes of God. He remains there. Even now, at the right hand of God, he is always interceding for you (Ro. 8:34). Accordingly, He has enabled you to stand in His holy presence, unafraid of His wrath against your sin!
Before He left, Jesus promised His disciples that He would prepare a place for them so that they would be with Him wherever He went. Jesus went the way of the cross and the open tomb to prepare the way, and by His sprinkled blood, He gave you access to God's holy presence. You will be where he is now.
Accordingly, the holy writer exhorts us: "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water."
You see, God gave each of us a conscience on which He imprinted His holy law. He gave us that conscience to guide us in His ways. Unfortunately, sin has marred, or seared, our conscience so that even it, at times, is not reliable and can be overcome by false philosophies and theologies of men and wicked schemes of the devil. Yet, where God's revealed law and word, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, are rightly preached and proclaimed, the conscience of the hearers is strengthened and bolstered with the truth to the extent that it does serve to rightly condemn our wicked thoughts, words, and deeds so that we come to feel guilt for our sins. Sometimes this guilt can overwhelm us to absolute despair: "Surely, even God cannot forgive me for my evil!"
Only one thing can overcome this guilty or "evil" conscience: the blood of Christ. The blood of Jesus proclaims a more powerful word than does your conscience. The blood of Jesus declares that your sins, though scarlet, will be as white as snow. Through the holy word of absolution spoken to you by God's servant, "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins," your hearts have been sprinkled clean with the blood of Jesus.
In the same way, in the waters of Holy Baptism, you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb that cries out for your forgiveness. In that baptismal water, your bodies were washed with pure water—water comprehended in Jesus' command and connected with His Word—water made pure with the blood of the Lamb. That means you can draw near with a true heart in the full assurance of faith.
Therefore, you can also "hold fast to the confession of your hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful."
Have you ever noticed that one of the first casualties of waiting for something to arrive is your assurance and conviction that it will come? When we are forced to wait for extended periods, the devil, our flesh, and even the world are right there to fill our hearts with doubts: "It's never going to come." You have been suckered. "Why don't you just give up waiting and go about your life?" Our hope then wanes. We become weak-kneed, rarely, if ever, expressing or confessing our hope. Optimism turns into pessimism. Conviction depends on doubt.
You have no reason to succumb to such a fate. You have a faithful high priest who intercedes for you. He who promised you would be justified and holy in God's presence has signed and sealed His promise to you in His blood. His cross shows how far He will go to keep His word to you.
You can proclaim boldly to all who will listen that you stand secure no matter how long before Jesus returns in His blood. He will not condemn you along with the wicked. He will take you to be with Him in the Holy Place of God!
As we wait for that day of the Lord's return, you and I can do something with that conviction to help bolster the confidence of others. The holy writer states: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near."
You and I are not in this wait for the Lord's return alone. We have a whole congregation of others right here and a whole world of other Christians looking forward confidently to the day of judgment drawing near. We can encourage one another in our faith in Christ.
But we can only do that if we gather together. Individually, the devil can defeat us with fear. We are not strong enough to remain firm in confessing our hope alone. He can easily make us waver and fall. You remove a burning ember from a fire, and the fire within it will soon go out. But when that ember remains among the other coals, it burns on and on, and its sparks keep the embers touching it alive with fire. Together, we are not alone; we are with our fellow members of the body of Christ. Jesus' head is where the body is. The devil cannot destroy our hope as we stand by each other's sides with Jesus residing in us. He must flee. As Jesus has promised, the gates of hell shall not prevail against His church.
Accordingly, going to church is not only about keeping the Third Commandment by holding God's word sacred and gladly hearing and learning it. Yes, when we participate in the Divine Liturgy and Bible Studies, we draw strength from Christ Himself through His Word and Sacraments, which keep us in Christ and give us hope. But our presence also greatly encourages others that they, too, might enjoy that same confidence and comfort we have in the face of the Lord's eternal judgment, especially as we see the day of the Lord draw ever nearer!