daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, Second Week of the Year, January 21, 2017
Hebrews 9: 2-3, 6-7, 11-14, Psalm 46, Mark 3:20-21

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

Tag: Basic New Testament soteriology (theology of salvation)

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption" (Hebrews 9:11-12).

The letter to the Hebrews reaches a climax in today's reading about the sacrificial nature of Christ's death as a sin offering. Christ dies on the cross for our sins and then ascends into the heavenly sanctuary to present before his Father the blood of his sacrifice in order to secure for us an eternal redemption and to purify our "conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:14).

"For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:13-14).

It is important that the incarnate Son of God shed his own blood for our sins, because "it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). About the ineffectiveness of the Old Testament sacrifices, Hebrews says, "According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper" (Hebrews 9:9). So something more had to be done.

That is Jesus' task, as he himself indicated. He would sacrifice himself to take away our sins. "For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). At the Last Supper, over the cup, Jesus said, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28).

Jesus is the lamb of sacrifice that actually would take away sins. John the Baptist called him "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). And St. Paul said about him, "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3). He also said, "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God" (Ephesians 5:2).

Jesus himself indicated that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah 53 when he said, "I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was reckoned with the transgressors'; for what is written about me has its fulfillment" (Luke 22:37). Isaiah 53 spoke clearly of the Suffering Servant's vicarious death as a sin offering to atone for our sins:

"He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).

Philip preached Christ to the Ethiopian eunuch, starting from Isaiah 53, which the eunuch was reading in his chariot. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus" (Acts 8:35).

St. Paul said that God reconciled us to himself by "making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20). The Father was pleased "through him [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross" (Colossians 1:20).

The result of Christ's sacrifice is that "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). Perfected through suffering on the cross, Christ has become the source of our eternal salvation, when we believe in him.

As the paschal lamb was sacrificed and saved Israel from the plague of death of the firstborn, so, St. Paul tells us, Christ is our sacrificed paschal lamb. "For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed" (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Scripture tells us that we are justified and saved from God's wrath for our sins by Christ's blood. "Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:9). Christ's blood justifies us, because it paid our debt of suffering in punishment for our sins, which we owed God. Therefore an all-just God can justly forgive us, pronounce us acquitted, and declare us righteous, for our sentence for our sins has already been served for us by Christ. His death on the cross satisfied divine justice on our behalf for our sins and propitiated the divine wrath against us for them.

As Scripture says, Jesus Christ was the one "whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith" (Romans 3:25 NKJV). St. John tells us, "He Himself [Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2 NKJV). He also says, "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).

Christ took our sins upon himself and suffered their punishment on the cross, as Isaiah 53 prophesied. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). Christ did this by being himself the lamb of sacrifice, for "you know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1 Peter 1:18-19).

So now once Jesus' sacrifice has been completed on the cross, he ascends into heaven to present his own sacrificed blood before his Father, the blood that made reparation for our sins, something that none of the Jewish sacrifices could do. This is the meritorious cause of our justification. The instrumental cause of our justification is faith, which is like an empty vessel that we use to receive the gift of justification.

The basis of our justification is Christ's death in substitutionary satisfaction for our sins. He bore our sins on the cross, and God punished them in him (Romans 8:3-4). He took our place in being punished for our sins so that we could go free from eternal punishment in hell for them. God thus declares us righteous, his wrath against us for our sins is propitiated, and we are reconciled with God.

Furthermore, Christ's own righteousness is reckoned to us, as our sins are reckoned to him. As Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Romans 4:3), so we believe in Christ, and our faith too is reckoned to us as righteousness, as St. Paul says, "But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him [Abraham],' were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord" (Romans 4:23-24).

So this is how Christ's presentation of the blood of his sacrifice to his Father in the heavenly sanctuary redeems us from sin, guilt, and death. We are justified because of the shedding of his blood, by means of our faith, without works. Justification is only through faith, not works, because of Jesus' blood. Works come later for our sanctification. It is because of his sacrificed blood that we are justified and saved by means of our faith.

"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace" (Ephesians 1:7). "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13). "If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). He "has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Revelation 1:5).

Indeed, the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the great sacrifice that has redeemed us from our sins, for "he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Hebrews 9:26). "So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him" (Hebrews 9:28).



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