Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sermon for 11/25/12

Sermon Merciful Fearful Snatching Grace and peace to you in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. A few years ago I was driving my family home from Fort Wayne, Indiana to Huntington, West Virginia. We had taken a little bit of a detour to drive through a town with a church in our association, just to see what the territory was like. It was later in the day than I had planned. We had made several unscheduled stops and found ourselves in a high traffic area in rush hour traffic. Normally this isn’t a very serious problem. I’m used to city driving, and not cities like Watseka, cities with four or five lanes going one direction, stopping and starting, lots of lane changes. No, I wasn’t on my cell phone. All of a sudden, after I had looked over my shoulder to make sure a lane change was safe, I saw brake lights. Let off the gas pedal and re-adjust, check the mirrors for other lanes. Then I saw that the cars directly ahead were not just slowing, they had made an emergency stop. I was going some fifty miles an hour faster than they were. Antilock brakes are a wonderful thing. Who’s behind me? Am I going to turn our van into a sandwich? We can’t stop on a dime and we wouldn’t want to. Everyone is buckled in. Still going too fast, not enough room. I sure hope that person in the lane to the right is slowing down enough. We came to a stop spread out across two lanes. White knuckles, Martha is furiously stamping down on her imaginary brake pedal, Hannah has dropped her book and is asking what is going on, nobody was hurt, we didn’t hit anyone, though we were within a few inches of the car in front of us before getting to the right of it. Have you been there? Though it only took about ten seconds from beginning to end it seemed like an eternity. What’s our reaction? There’s a reaction I didn’t do. It’s what I call the “mom” reaction. My mother always did it in a sudden stop. I’ve seen many other women do it. I have nothing against women. It’s a very noble reaction. What do moms do? Can anyone make the gesture? The “mom” reaction is to hold the steering wheel with the left hand and stick the right arm out in front of the passenger. This is a noble thing. Of course, it won’t stop anyone from pitching into the windshield. But that’s beside the point. There’s a reflex that most mothers have. They reach out to protect the ones they love. What do dads do? They actually fight that reaction, grip the steering wheel with white knuckles, and pull back on it, as if that will slow the car down faster. That’s noble too. It’s all an attempt to protect those we love. What does Jude tell us? In verse 21 we keep ourselves in the safe place. We keep our arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. We wait for Jesus’ mercy to rescue us. And we need rescue. We are barreling down the highway right toward those brake lights. And we don’t have any brakes, we don’t have steering, we don’t have seat belts, we don’t have air bags. Without Jesus’ loving protection we are in peril. We have no hope except that he has promised to guard us and rescue us. How does that rescue happen? How do we receive eternal life? It’s a gift of God’s grace. We read in Ephesians chapter two that we are saved by grace through faith. Salvation is not of us. It is a gift of God. Yet how is it that we are safe? We keep our arms and legs safely inside the vehicle at all times. And that vehicle is God’s love and mercy, protected by the most holy faith that has been delivered to us. Do you notice here that I don’t say that we are protected by our faith but by the faith? I’m going to run a risk here, and it’s the risk of being labeled a pointy-headed academic. You all know I have a good dose of that in me, though when I look at the work of real scholars and theologians I don’t think my head is pointy at all. But I want to be sure we understand what Jude is talking about here. Do I dare use two different Latin phrases? I think I will. Unfortunately, the phrases sound almost exactly alike. If you want to see them distinguished, look at the sermon on my blog. But I’ll try to translate them in a way that will be different enough. Theologians talk about two different kinds of faith. One they call fides quā credimus. That literally means “the faith by which we believe.” This is our faith, this is my faith. It is the faith that I place in the saving work of Jesus on my behalf. Much of the time when we refer to faith we are using it this way. And since most of us think three Latin words at a time is altogether too much we generally knock it down to two words, fides quā. The faith by which we believe. When I trust, when I believe, I believe in something. And so do we all. Who is the object of our faith? It better not be ourselves. Don’t trust your heart, it is deceitful. Don’t trust the Force. There’s a dark side to that. Don’t trust people too much. There’s too much sin and selfish desire in all of us. Trust in Jesus, the one who has given his life so you could live it in his place. There’s the fides quā, the faith by which we believe. But Jude here is talking about something else. We might mistake it just looking at verse 20. But in verse 21 we see that when we build ourselves up in our faith we keep ourselves in God’s love. We wait for his mercy in Jesus. This isn’t something about our faith. Rather, this is the other kind of faith the theologians talk about. It’s fides quae creditur. I’ll try to translate that, but I’ll give you the shorthand also, fides quae. Can you see how people who don’t actually understand the Latin would have trouble distinguishing between the two? They are just one letter different. But there are words like that in English also. One little letter makes the difference between “trough” and “through.” This fides quae is “the faith which is believed.” That’s what Jude is talking about. This is the faith known as the Gospel. It is the Christian faith. it is the body of belief that Christians confess about God’s love. It is the faith we confess. It’s what we believe. This faith which is believed is much greater protection for us than our individual faith. It’s what keeps us safe. It’s what keeps us in God’s love. By my personal faith I fasten my seatbelt. I reach out across to the passenger seat and try to hold someone who weighs a lot more than a brick in place despite a sudden stop or a collision. By my personal faith I find myself like Martha found herself that day in Ohio, stamping down on a brake pedal that isn’t actually there. By my personal faith I find myself not knowing who I should trust. By the fides quae, the faith which is believed, I find myself safely inside this vehicle with a perfectly functioning seat belt, air bags, anti-lock brakes, Jesus’ hand on the steering wheel, and the ability to avoid any collisions. By the faith which is believed, I find myself in an ark of safety which will never be destroyed and in which no lasting harm can come to me. By the faith which is believed, even at the end of the year, as we consider the end of the world, I see that there is no trouble that can come against me which will throw me into the fire of God’s wrath. There is no danger. I’m perfectly safe. Why? Because this faith is not mediated by me. It is governed by Jesus, my merciful savior. How do we who are called by Jesus respond in these times of trouble? We are merciful to those who doubt. We see someone mashing down on the brake pedal that isn’t there. We remind them they are in an ark of safety. We snatch some from the fire, pulling their arms and legs into the vehicle, God’s ark of safety, the Church. We show mercy mixed with fear to some. Consider this day of God’s wrath, the day of destruction by fire. It’s a fearful thing. We smother the flames that threaten to engulf them. They are inside God’s ark of safety, by God’s Word we extinguish the flames. So who are you today? Where are you sitting in that van? Are you aware of the danger of the end but unable to do anything about it? Maybe you’re tramping on that brake pedal that isn’t there. maybe you are fearful for the future, maybe you are entirely out of control. Trust in the Lord, who has given you the Church to keep you in safety. Maybe you’re the person who is living dangerously, hanging your head out of the window. When we call to you, when the Lord calls to you, come to him, look to him for your protection, pull your head in, let us who are safely inside help you, let the soothing, healing, cooling water of the Holy Spirit extinguish the flames, heal the burns, cleanse you. Or maybe you are one of the people who wasn’t paying attention but suddenly something seems to be happening. The Word of God warns you about God’s wrath to come, his righteous judgment on all evil. Does he condemn you as evil? He does that to everyone, as we have all sinned and fallen short of his righteousness. Devote yourself to this faith, this most holy faith, which is able to guard you. How do we do that? We do it in response to the grace of God, as His Word is spoken, as we hear it, and as we respond in faith. We receive from his riches, the riches of his mercy and grace, as he warns us of his wrath. We receive from his riches as we realize that Jesus, by his perfect life, death, and resurrection on our behalf is the one who has plunged into destruction so we would be perfectly safe. Trust in the Lord! Build yourself up in this most holy Christian faith which has been delivered to you over the centuries through the Church, the place where Christ is present to grant us forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Word and Sacraments. 24 To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sermon for 11/18/12

Sermon: The Confidence of the End Grace, mercy, and peace to you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. There are some people in this world who are obsessed with different things. Do you know any of them? Some people aren’t satisfied unless they know all the stats not only for their favorite football team but for all the football teams. Some people are focused on keeping that lawn free from weeds and mown smooth like a carpet. Some people have perfectionistic tendencies, some even say I do. And someone recently remarked on my terribly messy office, saying I must be obsessive about keeping it tidy because it was so neat. Sometimes we see our obsessions and sometimes they are more visible to other people. Does our world have an obsession? I think it does. I think there’s one within the Church as well. It’s an obsession with the end times, the things of the last days, the fear of God’s final judgment. If you want to make a lot of money as a Christian author, write a book about heaven. Write a book about the transition from earthly life to eternal life. Write a book about the end times. Would you like to have a full church building? Hold a multiple-evening seminar on who the Antichrist is. Would you like an empty church building? Hold a multiple-evening seminar on who the Christ is. That shows the obsession our world has. And today, as we move to the end of the Church year our Scriptures look to the time of the end. In just two weeks we will start the new year, with Advent, the time for both mourning and eager anticipation of the coming Christ. But for now we are bringing the year to a close. We are looking at the end times, the last days, the coming of Christ at the end of the world. From our very brief passage in Daniel I’ve pulled three critical points. 1) Eternity is for everyone. 2) Those who are “wise” are those who stand firm trusting Jesus. 3) All who trust in Jesus will be delivered in perfect safety during the last days. First, eternity is for everyone. In the resurrection, at that last day, all the dead will be raised, all the living will be taken. Everyone will be judged. Some will have what the Bible calls life, others will have what Daniel calls “shame” and “contempt” that will last forever. All people are ushered into an eternal existence. Everlasting death is pictured in the Bible as conscious punishment, pain, grief, suffering, agony. Unlike the Seventh-Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who say that unbelievers will simply cease to exist, the Bible teaches an eternity of conscious torment for those who die outside of Christ. Sadly, in 1995 the Anglicans took an annihilationist position as well, becoming the first mainstream Christian group to take an official stand in favor of it. We have to ask ourselves what death looks like in the Bible. God told Adam and Eve that in the day they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die. How did they die? They became subject to separation from God. They became subject to the kind of pain that we endure because we are not in unity with our Lord. This is death. And in eternity those who are dead, dead to Christ, dead to God, live on and on with all the pain of the curse of God. They have shame, they have bitterness, they have hatred, and they have nothing at all to do with it. They are described as being in a perpetual burning with no hope of relief. Eternity is for everyone. We don’t just cease to exist. There should be great fear in approaching death outside of Christ. So I’m going to pause for a moment and sound a little less like a Lutheran. I trust you’ll be understanding. The Bible calls us to trust in Jesus. The Bible tells us that we can be raised to glory as we are looking to Jesus in faith. Maybe you are someone who has just come to the Church recently, or maybe you are someone who has been around Christians for a very long time. But being around the Church doesn’t always mean you are looking to Jesus in faith. Do you believe that Jesus is, as the book of Hebrews describes him, the author and finisher of your salvation? Or are you someone who may be unprepared for eternity, who is not trusting in Jesus? Don’t be taken, don’t be raised to shame. Believe that Jesus is here for you, full of grace and truth, full of forgiveness, the one who will give you eternal life in his glory, in his presence. Trust in him. And whether you are just now trusting in him or have believed him before, turn to him, daily hoping in his mercy and his forgiveness. He is faithful and just to forgive you your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Eternity is for everyone. Trusting in Christ we are raised to glory. This brings us to our second point, which will be very short.  Those who Daniel presents as “wise” are the people who have “the brightness of the heavens” (Daniel 12:3, NIV1984). Who are the wise people? Those are the people who stand firm, trusting Jesus, as we read in our Gospel passage today. Whom do we trust? What do we trust? Do we remember that Jesus is the one who is presenting us to God the Father as his perfect bride, dressed all in the white robes of Christ’s righteousness? This is our Lord’s promise. He will awaken us to him. We have no reason for fear. We have no reason for doubt. It is not our own works, it is not our own righteousness, but it is Jesus’ perfect life which he applies to us as we trust in him. Would you like to be perfectly good, perfectly right, perfectly holy? This is what Jesus does for you when he forgives you and presents you to God the Father. Eternity is for everyone. Those who are wise, trusting in Christ, are presented to God in Christ’s holiness. And now our third point, all who trust in Jesus will be delivered in perfect safety during the last days. When are these last days? That brings us to another doctrinal difficulty in the Church, and it’s one that has taken hold of this country in a very serious way, the doctrine of the millenium. For almost two thousand years now, the view of the vast majority of the Church has been that we are in the last days, as Peter proclaimed in the second chapter of Acts. By faith in Christ we are in that time period presented in Revelation chapter 20 as the “millennial” or “thousand-year” reign of Christ on earth. The idea of the millennium, which means “period of a thousand years” seems to be taken from a simple bit of symbolic math which the author of Revelation presents. The trinitarian number three plus the number for completion and perfection, seven, equals ten. This is why there are so many threes, sevens, and tens in the Bible. Now I’m no expert at biblical numerology, nor do I want to be one. Many people try to find symbolic number patterns throughout the Bible and miss the fact that the Bible is all about Jesus. Yet this number, ten, when cubed, ten times ten times ten, see the “three” coming back, adds up to a thousand. When used outside of actual counts of people, such as in military actions, the idea of a thousand is intended to indicate as much perfection, as much completion, as you could have. So here we have a thousand year period. It’s a time period nobody could live through, a time period nobody could completely count systematically. It’s the time period of the last days, Christ’s gracious rule on earth, the time of the Church. Some people have decided to look forward to a coming thousand year reign. They find it makes Revelation 20 relatively easy to explain. But it makes it impossible to explain many of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels without having to twist his words about his kingdom being present, his believers seeing his kingdom, all sorts of statements which he makes to comfort us. When confronted with the millennial views of the more radical parts of the Reformation there are two directions they take us. One of them, held by many Presbyterians, is called “postmillennialism.” In this picture, by working diligently for social change we will bring the Gospel to all nations and usher in a period of Christ’s rule on earth. This pushes our Calvinist brothers and sisters to enthusiastic missionary activity. While the emphasis on proclaiming the Gospel is something we should all learn from and embrace, the Bible doesn’t picture us as bringing a time of peace. It says Jesus brought that peace when he died for the sins of the world. The other direction millennialism can take us is more common among Baptists and the more broadly evangelical people in our culture. They say that the world will reach a crisis point, Jesus will come, and at that point he will judge the world and usher in his thousand year reign. This “premillennial” view still can’t explain the time of the Church that we are in. Both views are full of difficulties. That’s why the historic Church says we are in the millennium now, but that it is not necessarily limited to a literal thousand years. What’s at the heart and center of these views? It is that Jesus is working to deliver his people, and they will be brought to him perfectly safely. There is no fear in the love of Christ. We see in Revelation that the throne of God is surrounded by a great multitude of people who have trusted in Jesus. The people who have been killed for their faith, the people who have died of natural causes or in accidents or from cause of warfare not related to their Christian faith, all who die trusting in Jesus are perfectly safe in the resurrection. Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, is able to bring all who trust in him into the presence of the Father. We will all be perfectly safe. One of my historical heroes, Stonewall Jackson, when asked how he seemed perfectly at ease on the battlefield with bullets and cannon balls flying around him, said that in the arms of Jesus his savior he was just as safe there as he was at home in his bed. His Lord and Savior would protect him and bring him home as a partaker of the resurrection no matter the circumstances of his death. Eternity is for everyone. Those who are wise trust in Christ. Those who trust in Christ are perfectly safe both now and for eternity. Let us then trust in our Lord as we join with the multitude of saints who have gone to their eternal rest and with those who are still laboring on this earth, confessing our common faith together, trusting that Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith will make us shine in the heavenly realms forever. Amen.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sermon for 11/11/12

Sermon “A Little and A Lot” Dearest Lord, open our hearts to receive from you according to the riches of your grace, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we read about an elderly lady, no husband, no money, one who has outlived her resources. She has a little bit of money, but not much, really not enough. She’s living in poverty with nobody to take care of her. I’m sure if you have been around Christianity for long you have heard sermons about the widow from our Old Testament reading in 1 Kings 17 as well as the widow in the Gospel from Mark 12. Neither of these women has any assets, at least not that we can see. Neither has any hope in earthly things. One is preparing to eat her last meal. One is giving a small amount of money which is a lot to her. I’ve heard the sermons and you probably have also, those about how when we dedicate all that we have to the Lord he takes it and makes it a lot. It preaches well. Leaves us with a good feeling, especially if we don’t have much money and we decide to make a big pledge by faith to support the church or maybe a missions project. The preacher turns into an auctioneer and begins working the price up, building an emotional frenzy that will bring in the pledges. Here’s one I saw, actually experienced, once. The evangelist was talking about the love of money being the root of all evil. Of course, he misquoted 1 Timothy 6:10, just as I did. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. But he persuaded people to find their wallets, take money out of them, hold it up to God, and wave it before Him, renouncing the Devil. Then he proceeded to pass the offering plates an extra time. Tremendous peer pressure to put money in the plate. Who seemed to be loving money? But people will take these passages and use them to pile the guilt on their hearers. If we truly trust the Lord, won’t we want to give away everything we have? If we really trust God, won’t we pledge our last cent to his kingdom? If we really trust God enough we can dedicate ourselves, our resources, our families, all we have, to his service. Now don’t get me wrong. Our Lord calls us to lay down our lives. He demands our life, our all. There’s no question about that. Yet we see the Bible full of examples of people, wealthy people, using their resources wisely to further God’s work on earth, including providing for the needs of their family in their own generation and in future generations. If God has blessed you with the ability to earn money and set it aside for your family, use it wisely. Give in a planned and reasoned way, give extra when there are needs you are aware of and when you are able to contribute to those needs, and care for your family. I’m veering off from the Gospel passage for a moment. I hope you’ll forgive me. Many people talk about the “tithe,” a 10% portion of your income, as the appropriate amount to give. They will tie this back to Old Testament passages requiring the giving of a tenth. “Tithe” literally means “tenth.” This seems to be an idea that has caught on and has remained within the body of Christ. I’ve even run across church congregations in which the membership agrees to give a tenth of their gross income in the offering or to be subject to church discipline. I know some of us in this room have been in situations where that is the norm, and it’s a good norm, at least the giving part, not the discipline part. If everyone in this congregation gave ten percent we would have enough to help those who are in need, to support many ministry projects locally and around the world, we’d have an abundance. It isn’t a bad idea at all. But there is something flawed in the reasoning. At the time when God called Israel to make those offerings, they provided not only for the needs of the priesthood and for charity to the poor, they also provided for all the functions of government which were necessary in the nation. There was no separate civil government taxing the people. To make matters more complicated, in some years there were multiple different offerings of a tenth of your increase, resulting in a much higher level of giving. In the New Testament we do see Jesus complimenting the Pharisees because they are rigorous about giving the offerings required by Moses, but we also see the apostolic pattern from 1 Corinthians 16:2 of setting aside something on the first day of the week, Sunday, “in keeping with” income. The percentage isn’t mentioned. At that time there is a civil government which taxes its people. There are plenty of needs for giving. There will always be poor among us. There will always be projects we need to accomplish. But the idea of the ten percent doesn’t seem to be specifically what the New Testament would require. Instead we see a picture much more like a planned amount that is fitting in terms of our income and the needs of others, as well as additional offerings from time to time as needs present themselves. This might just revolutionize our giving strategy. We use the money God has given us in a planned way to meet the known needs as well as we can, setting aside a budgeted amount, and supporting God’s people. At the same time we realize that the Church does not serve all the functions that our government has assumed. We give liberally so there will not be a need for continual special offerings. And we do it, like the widows in our readings today, in faith, trusting that the Lord who provided us with all we have is able to make it last as long as he wants to. We do it in faith, knowing that God’s mercy is upon us and that he will use us to show mercy upon others. We give not to be seen, but to accomplish what is needful. There, we’ve returned to mark 12. Jesus commends this widow who gives what she has. He wants us to realize that we also have nothing in particular. We ourselves are poor. We have no means of our own, it all comes from the Lord. We have no great claim to glory and honor. We simply go about our business, helping others as well as we can, in the end being unsung heroes. We give our little bit. We trust in our Lord. And as everyone does the same, we find that the confidence we have in Jesus is a great reward. We find that we are lacking nothing. And when we are lacking something, since there is an abundance of giving, we are not afraid to ask our brothers and sisters, the body of Christ, to support us in our need. What is our need? Most of the time we need prayer and encouragement. As I’ve gone around visiting people in the Faith Lutheran congregation, making it to more of the homes of people who are not shut-ins, the biggest need people have talked about has been a need for encouragement. May the Lord grant that our times of worship and fellowship together can be a time for encouragement. Have you told someone recently what a blessing he is? Have you gone to those who are sick or troubled and brought them care? It’s a job for all of us, not just the pastor. What other needs do we have? I hear from people who might come to church more often or more easily if they had a ride. Do some of us drive right past with empty seats in our cars? We used to attend a church congregation with a number of younger families. It wasn’t uncommon to find a sort of a swap meet in the parking lot after worship. Our family often had the back of the van propped open with a number of items from our house which we were no longer using, ready for others to take. Other people did the same. Sometimes we brought things to church that didn’t come back with us. Sometimes we went to church and brought back gifts. We never know what we’ll find. Sometimes there are other needs, financial needs, a need for help with a big project. Can we step up to the plate, let our needs be known, and trust that Christ’s people will meet our needs? Or do we want to be like those people Jesus talked about in Mark 12 who say their lives are in perfect order, who deny their poverty, who give rich gifts to be seen by others? May God give us the grace he gave the widow, to give out of our poverty, realizing that we have nothing that doesn’t come from our Lord, that we need his grace in every way. What is the greatest need we have, and we all do have it? It’s the need we express week after week, that need for forgiveness. Are we ready to admit our poverty in spirit before the Lord? Are we ready to confess that we are sinners in need of salvation? Are we ready to confess that we are too quick to trust in our own ways, in our own ability, in our own resources? Then let us turn to our Lord and Savior in faith. Jesus, God the Son, gave his life as a sacrifice for our sin. He gave the riches that we need, his perfect eternal life. As we look to him in trust, he will give that life to us. We don’t really bring anything, just a couple of copper coins. He brings us forgiveness, life, and salvation. And he delivers it to us freely, richly, as we trust in him and receive from the Word of God. Let us pray. Lord of all, let us see that we in ourselves are poor widows with no inheritance. Yet as you give us what we need through Word and Sacrament, make us trust you and live as those who have received all your grace and mercy. Have mercy upon us, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sermon for 11/4/12

Sermon “Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant” Open our hearts and minds to you, Lord of the covenant, that we may know the grace you have bestowed on us, giving your great and precious promises. This we pray in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. As with all our Bible readings, there were quite a few sermons asking to be preached today. It’s always exciting to see what the Lord would have us ponder whenever we open our Bibles. And I hope you take our readings and ponder them on your own, asking the Lord to speak through His Holy Word on a daily basis, renewing your hearts and minds. Today we’re brought to the message of God’s covenant love. This idea of a covenant comes from Old Testament customs. At the time of Abram, probably about 1500 B.C., some 3500 years ago, this custom of sealing a covenant was well established. In the ancient cultures of his time, rulers who were making a treaty would take a variety of sacrificial animals, divide them in half, make a pathway between them, then walk down the pathway together. The ground and the animals were spattered with blood. By the end of their walk, the rulers would be wet with the blood of the sacrificial animals. The smell of death was all around them. In this ceremony both of the rulers would pledge that if they were to break their agreement, their covenant, they themselves should be put to death, just like the sacrificial animals they had killed. We find a covenant like this sealed in Genesis chapter 15. If you have a Bible handy, you might want to look at this passage, in Genesis 15. God has promised Abram a son who would be his heir, who would inherit the great land of promise, who would be great, and who would be a blessing to all nations. There’s just one problem. Abram is old. He has no children. When God repeats his promise to Abram he asks how he will know that the promise will be for him. God sets up a sacrifice. Abram is to bring sacrificial animals, but he is not to pass between them. During the night, the LORD tells Abram more about his future. Then the LORD himself passes between the animals, but he doesn’t allow Abram to do so. By doing this God has said clearly, for all time, that if he fails to keep his promise he is no longer God, he deserves to be torn apart and put to death. By preventing Abram from passing through this sacrifice he says that Abram cannot and will not keep the promise. He keeps Abram from convicting himself. Over the generations the nation of Israel grew. They continued making the sacrifices that God had appointed. And these sacrifices did bring forgiveness. The people were sprinkled with the blood of their sacrifices. This sprinkling cleansed the people of God. Yet it would not have any effect except that Jesus came to pass between the sacrifices on our behalf. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as we read in Hebrews chapter 9, passed through death, “by his own blood” (v. 12, NIV84), bringing us eternal forgiveness. Jesus himself took the place of Abram. He took the place of Moses. He took your place, he took my place. He walked through the valley of death, the passageway between the parts of the dead animals, representing you and me, acting as our mediator. What is a mediator? Before we get ahead of ourselves I think we’d better make this clear. A mediator is, strictly speaking, a middle-man. It is the person who represents one person to another and that other person to the first person. It’s sort of like a messenger, but it is normally a messenger who has authority agreed on by both people to represent their points of view. Often in modern days a mediator is a lawyer who speaks for a client who is unable to be present, then speaks back to the client about the other party’s needs and desires. We see in this passage of Scripture that Jesus is our mediator. He is the one who works on our behalf, taking our needs before God and bringing God’s answer back to us. He is the one who walks between the sacrifices for Abram and for us. So what is the critical factor in this event? How does the author of Hebrews see it? Jesus, our priest, the one who makes sacrifice on our behalf, the one who stands for us, enters God’s presence pleading for us. But just as we have confessed, we have a problem. Jesus is like the lawyer who is coming to the judge on behalf of someone who has committed a terrible crime, one with plenty of evidence for conviction, and who has confessed that crime. What response does the judge have for us when we plead guilty of our crimes? He may commend us for our honesty. He may even thank us for coming clean. But someone has to go to jail. The penalty stands. We are guilty. The penalty of our guilt before God? As we know from Romans chapter 6 verse 23, sin receives death. We are guilty. We deserve present and eternal death. What will we do? How do we receive forgiveness? All the offerings we can make, all the sacrifices we can make, all the penalties we can pay are of no use. Someone has to die. And it looks a lot like that someone is you. It looks a lot like that someone is me. Really? Just for those “little” sins? Yes. There is no sin that is too small to convict us. There is no failure before God which goes unnoticed. Our Lord is perfect. In Matthew chapter 5 he demands that we should be perfect, just like him. Ezekiel chapter 18 tells us that the soul who sins must die. So what are we going to do? Go cry without stopping until we die? That won’t do us much good, will it? In fact, it will do us no good. There is nothing we can do of our own accord that will stop the penalty of God. He kept his promise made to Abram. He remains the true God and is not condemned. The good news in all this is that Jesus did walk down that path for us. He passed between the sacrificial animals, and he did it for us. He did it for you, he did it for me, he did it for every single man, woman, and child ever born in this world. And by doing that he stands before God as a mediator of the new covenant. He pleads before the Father that we should not be torn apart, but that he should instead. He asks the Father that our sins should be laid upon him. He asks the Father that all the sacrifices anybody had ever made should be replaced by his perfect sacrifice and that he may end it all, taking our penalty upon himself. Someone has to die. Jesus, our mediator, begs that he should be the one who dies for us. Jesus, then, is the mediator of a new covenant. He is the mediator of a covenant that is completed. He is the one who has finished the work of our forgiveness. He is the one who has wiped away all our sin, all the sin we have ever committed, all the sin we will ever commit, all our sins of commission, what we have done, all our sins of omission, what we have left undone. He has taken it all upon himself. He has died for your sin and for my sin. He has become sin for us, according to 2 Corinthians 5, so that we could become God’s righteousness. And how did he do that? He did it by having his body broken for you and for me. He did it by having his blood shed for you and for me. He has sprinkled us with the blood of his covenant, he has brought us forgiveness, life, and salvation, to as many as believe him. Do you come today with a guilty conscience before God? Jesus has taken all your sin. Do you come today with a burden of sin? Jesus has taken it away from you. Do you come today doubting whether God keeps his promises? Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, keeping all the promises of God. Do you wonder whether this work of Jesus is for you? He has given us his true body and his true blood, whenever we gather in his name and receive his gifts of grace in communion. And this gift is for you and for me, for as many as believe that he died for us. Jesus gives you life! He is the mediator of the new covenant! As we read in 1 Peter chapter 5, let us cast our cares on him. He cares for us. When we gather to receive communion, when I raise the bread and the cup, join with me in trusting that his body is broken for you and his blood is shed for you. When you receive our Savior in your mouth, trust that he is here, as he said in John chapter 6, to give you true food and true drink that will last for eternity. Trust in our Lord Jesus Christ with me. He is the mediator of the new covenant, a covenant in his blood, which will wash you from all your sin. (2 Cor. 13.14, NIV) Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, amen.