Passion Sunday, March 29, 2009

John 8:46-59

Today is Passion Sunday and it begins the final two weeks of the Lenten season.

This period of time which is named "Passiontide" continues up to and includes Holy Saturday. Passiontide is intended to be a time when we focus all of our thoughts on Jesus dying for us on the cross.

During the next two weeks we should let nothing divert our attention from our Lord’s Passion and death. Through the assigned Collects, Epistles, and Gospels of the Lenten Season we were reminded in one way or another, that Jesus is a Prophet, a King, AND A PRIEST.

We also learned that each of these same offices was held by different men in the Old Testament. For example, Ezekiel was a priest and prophet.

King David offered up sacrifices and prophesied. And Moses performed all three duties to varying degrees. And there were many other prophets, kings, and high priests throughout Old Testament History.

These offices carried with them a lot of weight and importance to the culture, heritage and religion of the Hebrews.
* The prophets, for example, represented the voice of God – to the people.
* The kings - were the rulers of God’s people.
* And the priests - represented the voice of the people - to God.

The big difference is that the men of the Old Testament were imperfect in their roles as prophets, kings, and priests while Jesus embodies all three roles perfectly.

This morning I’d like us to look at just one of those roles. Christ’s role as the ultimate priest.

Today’s epistle, states that Jesus is our high priest – “a high priest of good things to come”. He took the blood of the holy sacrifice, Himself, and offered it unto His Father as an eternal atonement for our transgressions so that we might receive everlasting life. The function of making holy sacrifices is ancient.

It is first mentioned in Genesis 14:18, where Melchizedek, the priest of the Most High God met Abram with bread and wine - blessed him in the name of the Lord - and worshiped God with him. It is here that we have - our first glimpse at the function of the office of the priest: he offered the blessing of the Lord and led the people in the worship of God. And it is no coincidence that the first priest offered up bread and wine for fellowship with Abram in honor of the Living God.

We continue that offering today in our worship at the Holy Altar, where we partake of the Sacrament wherein we eat and drink the Bread and Wine and participate in the sacrifice offered by Christ.

In fact, we find that this offering, and especially Christ’s priesthood, is prophesied in Psalm 110 verse 4, where we are told that “the Lord’s Anointed”, will be a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

Another example of the priesthood comes from Aaron, Moses’ brother. As high priest, Aaron was given the important task of coming before the Lord in the Holy of Holies. He was charged to enter into the Holy of Holies and represent the people before God. He would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice of atonement upon the Ark, where the presence of God dwelt. The high priest would go through different ceremonies and offer several personal sacrifices in order to be made clean to enter into the Presence of the Lord. He was even required to wear special garments which were designed according to God’s instructions for beauty and glory.

And just as the high priest offered up the blood of a lamb, so through Jesus’ death, He offers up to God the ultimate sacrifice for our purification. His blood, the blood of the perfect Lamb, was shed before God. His special garments are those of righteousness and peace. He needs no outer garments to be made perfect and show righteousness before God. He beseeches the Father continually on our behalf. He seeks for us to come to Him, so that we might partake of that perfect atonement.

So you see, today’s Epistle leaves no doubt about the significance of our Lord’s death at Calvary.

All of the sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament had a single purpose: to point to Jesus on the cross - to point to Jesus Christ, who took the ONE sacrifice of Himself - ONCE offered, into the holiest place of all - the presence of his Father in heaven. In other words, Jesus was not simply a sacrificial victim when he died on the Cross. Because He was raised from the dead, He is the one and only High Priest who was able to offer the sacrifice of his own Body and Blood for our redemption. Jesus Christ’s one sacrifice of himself, offered for the remission of the sins of the whole world, means that there is no more need for sin offerings.

The sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament regarding animal sacrifices for sin were done away with because their purpose had been accomplished.

The one, true, all-sufficient sacrifice has been offered forever.

The Blood of Christ can do (and for the faithful has done) what no animal sacrifice could ever do – and that is, cleanse us forever from our sins and give us a new and eternal life in God’s fellowship and service.

Further evidence of Christ’s priesthood is found in the Gospel today where Jesus responded to the Pharisees who accused Him of being a sinner and a devil. He states, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, if a man keeps my saying, he shall never see death.” Jesus is talking of spiritual death. Spiritual death caused by sin which separates us from the Father.

Because the wages of sin are death, Jesus told those gathered around Him that if they would follow Him and heed His voice, they will be saved from spiritual death and eternal damnation. With those words, Jesus placed Himself in the position of the true High Priest of God.

The Jews then asked Jesus if He was greater than Abraham and the prophets who had come before. Jesus responded by saying that He would not honor Himself, but His Father honored Him. He continued by saying that He knew God and that Abraham rejoiced to see that the Messiah had come. Jesus asked them, who could know God except for those to whom He would reveal Himself? When our Lord says, "Before Abraham was, I am" (verse 58), he claims for himself the "I AM" of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He declares that he is in fact God Incarnate.

On that day, when our Lord declared himself as the God of Abraham, they sought to kill him by stoning, declaring His claim to be blasphemy. But then was not the time and it was not the manner of death the prophecies had revealed in the Scriptures. And so, he hid himself. But because Jesus is the promised Messiah come to save the world - He had to die. He would die because He was rejected and despised by those who were the slaves of a fallen world. But they would kill Him, not knowing that He was willingly offering His innocent Blood for their sins and the sins of the whole world.

The prophecy that lies at the heart of every blood sacrifice is this – SIN IS DEATH!

And the only thing that can take sin away – IS LIFE! The difference is that…. The ancient sacrifices said, "I am as dead as this animal without you, O Lord. I owe you a debt of life which I cannot repay on my own." The sacrifice of Jesus Christ perfected those sacrifices by saying, "O Father, I offer my life for the redemption of the world, paying with my own Blood the price that the blood of animals or of sinful men could never pay to you. I offer my life to replace the life that mankind has lost in sin, so that those who live in me will live forever, together with you and the Holy Ghost."

And while we do not offer sacrifice for sin today, because our Lord has already covered all our sins with his own Blood, we do offer what we call in our Prayer Book "sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving".

By these sacrifices we say, "We thank you, Father, for giving us a Savior and a new life that we did not deserve and could not obtain on our own.

We offer our own lives, then, the new lives that you have given us, not as a sacrifice for sin, but out of gratitude for our salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ, and to submit ourselves to you as your loving children by adoption and grace."

We can turn to our Lord Jesus Christ at any time for forgiveness, as long as we are willing to accept with that forgiveness, the grace to become the children of God that we ought to be.

That being the case, all of our efforts of living a good life in this world, and an eternal life in the world to come, must lead us back to Jesus Christ on the cross.

Christ fulfills the role of the priest for our lives. He is the perfect high priest, He is the perfect sacrifice. We are washed in his Blood, and we are washed in the water of Baptism that represents our entry into his death, and our promise of sharing his resurrection.

Jesus offers us ritual cleansing and atonement through His blood. He also provides for us all - the new circumcision, our Baptism, wherein we are brought into the Body of Christ and made a new creation in Him.

When we are lost and running from sin, He provides a place of rest and comfort to stay and be made whole again. He provides help for us along the way through His Holy Spirit. He gives us work to do, to build up His kingdom and share His love with others, and He teaches us through His Word and Sacraments about God the Father Almighty.

And when we are asked by others what power He has that makes us want to worship Him, our response can be simple.

He is the Lord’s Anointed.
He is my High Priest of the Most High God.
He is our mediator that leads us to eternal life.
He saves us from the death that is to come.
He is the “I AM”, the Beginning and the End.
He is our Savior and our God.
He is our prophet, priest and king.

Last updated - July 1, 2011.