THROUGH WHAT HE SUFFERED CHRIST BECAME THE SOURCE OF ETERNAL SALVATION TO ALL WHO OBEY HIM
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Second Week of the Year, January 16, 2017
Hebrews 5:1-10, Psalm 109, Mark 2:18-22
"For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Hebrews 5:1).
Jesus is our great high priest who is now in the heavenly sanctuary interceding for us with the Father by means of his own blood, which he shed for us on the cross as a vicarious sin offering in reparation for our sins to atone for them. His work on the cross, like that of a lamb of sacrifice, is that of substitutionary satisfaction for our sins. That is, he substitutes for us in being sacrificed instead of us dying in punishment for our sins to make just satisfaction for them before the Father. This atones for our sins and reconciles us with God, overcoming our alienation from him caused by our sins.
The effect of this sacrifice is personally reckoned to me, when I repent and put my faith in Christ. Because Jesus does this for us on the cross and is now presenting his sacrificed blood to his Father in the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf, interceding for us, he is our great high priest making intercession for us in heaven. "We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God" (Hebrews 4:14).
"He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Hebrews 7:25). "For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf" (Hebrews 9:24). "Who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?" (Romans 8:34). If Jesus is our great high priest, that means that he, like the Jewish high priests, "is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Hebrews 5:1).
Jesus' priesthood was exercised in a very different way from that of the Jewish high priests, for he was not only the priest who offered this sacrifice, but was also the victim that was offered. He himself was the lamb of sacrifice. Hebrews today makes reference to his suffering as a victim of sacrifice, saying, "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Hebrews 5:7-8).
This is surely a reference to his prayer of agony in the garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed, "‘Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.' And there appeared to him and angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground" (Luke 22:42-44).
Hebrews says, "He was heard for his godly fear" (Hebrews 5:7). God did not save him from death on the cross, but he was rescued from the power of death, for on the third day he rose from the dead. This is how his prayers to save him from death were heard. And the end result of his sacrifice was that "he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:9).
This is the whole purpose of Jesus' coming into the world. He was sent to us by the Father to save us from our sins and guilt, to overcome our alienation from God and reconcile us with him. He redeemed us from bondage to Satan and guilt and the fear of death and eternal punishment by paying to God the ransom price for our redemption with his own sacrificed blood. He paid our debt, that is, our debt of suffering in punishment that we owed God for our sins. He suffered it for us, vicariously, that is, in our place, instead of us, so that we could go free with the freedom of the children of God.
Christ's death propitiates God's righteous wrath against us for our sins, since it satisfies divine justice on our behalf for our sins. "In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Hebrews 2:17 NKJV). "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2 NKJV).
"In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10 NKJV). Jesus Christ is the one "whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed" (Romans 3:25 NKJV). Jesus propitiates God's wrath for our sins by satisfying divine justice for them by making reparation for them on the cross.
Previous sins were only passed over, not properly expiated. That expiation had to wait until the Son of God died on the cross to atone for all human sin. Only then is God's justice and righteousness demonstrated, in that all sin is then finally duly and justly punished and thereby expiated on the cross, for an all-just God must punish all sin.
If an all-just God must punish all sin, what hope do we ungodly sinners have before him? On my dying day, how can I die with good hope of being saved? Can I really hope in my good works? My hope is only based on one thing, Christ's redeeming death on the cross for my sins to make full and just reparation for them. I will die with an assurance of salvation based on my faith in Christ crucified for my sins so that I might be saved.
Christ's death actually justifies us by atoning for our sins and making reparation and satisfaction for them. Our part in this justification is faith, which is the instrument whereby we receive God's acquittal of us, on the basis of Christ's death for us.
We cannot justify ourselves by our works, for we "know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified" (Galatians 2:16). Only Christ's death justifies us, and faith is the way we receive that justification. Our works do not justify us.
And what is justification? It is God's declaration that, because of Christ's death, by means of our faith, we are acquitted of all our sins, and Christ's own righteousness is reckoned to us, for by faith our sins are reckoned to him, and he expiated them for us on the cross.
Christ's own righteousness is reckoned to us so that we become righteous with the very righteousness of Christ himself shining resplendently in us.
Works then follow as a result of our justification by faith apart from works. They are the result of our justification, not its cause. And what good do our good works then do us? They sanctify us. They enable us to grow in holiness.
This, then, is Christ's sacrifice for sins, "for every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (Hebrews 5:1). This is why Hebrews says today, "Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Hebrews 5:8-9).
We are justified and saved from our sins only by Christ's death, only by God's justifying decree, only on the basis of our faith in Christ. We do not justify ourselves by our good works. Our good works are always the result, never the cause of our justification. They follow our justification by faith not works as its fruits, as the visible manifestation of our justification.
By justification here I am referring to the initial declaration of God that we are acquitted of our sins and that Christ's righteousness is now reckoned to us, through our faith, because of his death on the cross for our sins to make reparation for them before God.
"For no human being will be justified in his sight by works of the law" (Romans 3:20). "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Romans 3:28). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV).
"That no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith'" (Galatians 3:11 NKJV). "I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Galatians 2:21). "But to him who does not work but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5 NKJV).
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