Rev’d Jonanthan Gale
Today you’re going to get half a sermon by design. The other half will be on Advent Sunday.
I probably need to say something before I start about priests in the Old Testament. My professor of Old Testament used to say that a prophet stands with his back to God and his face to the people because he represents God’s opinion to the people. The priest stands with his back to the people and his face to God because he represents the people to God – he prays for them.
Jesus plays a priestly function but we’ll get to that later.
What a set of writings the Lectionary has supplied us with this morning! What a wonderful testimony of the nature and work of Jesus, the Messiah, the saviour of the world!
Isaiah tells us that
- the Messiah was a sacrifice for our sins and diseases (as Jesus was on the cross),
- that he is so because all of us have gone astray (have wandered from God),
- that he was silent before his accuser (as Jesus was before the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate),
- that his tomb was with the rich (as Jesus was in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea)
- that out of his anguish he shall see light (as Jesus did in the resurrection)
- that the effect of this was to make many righteous (as happens to those who respond to the Gospel in repentance and faith)
- that God will allot him a portion with the great (as God the Father did when Jesus ascended to heaven)
- that he made intercession for the transgressors (as Jesus did, especially in what is known as his High Priestly prayer in the Gospel of John)
Which leads into the Letter to the Hebrews where we read this morning that God appointed Jesus a High Priest in the words, ‘You are a priest for ever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.’
Melchizedek is that strange figure who appears in the story of Abraham. He appears out of nowhere, Abraham pays a tithe to him and he disappears. He doesn’t feature in the biblical account again.
Melchizedek whom Hebrews 7: 3 describes as being without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.
- lived for us
- prays for us
- died for us
- rose to life for us
- ascended for us
- and still intercedes for us before the throne of God
There is a school of thought that says, we can do nothing towards our own salvation and in one sense that is true. Without God we are unable to achieve a thing. The way of salvation is opened by Jesus, and nobody else, least of all ourselves. The drowning man is drowning. He is rescued by someone who is not drowning. Salvation comes through Christ.
We cannot save ourselves. This is what incensed Paul about the Galatians who appeared to be listening to people who said, ‘Just obey the Law and you’ll please God.’ Paul was a Pharisee and knew all too well that an attempt to obey the Law only made one aware of one’s own sinfulness. Salvation lies in the death and resurrection of Jesus and in a response of faith to it.
I work within earshot of the kindy and there is one game that children play that will probably never die, and that’s hide and seek. Children love the thrill of being sought and of being found. It’s a reaffirmation of the fact that you are important, that you will be looked for and that there is a thrill in it all because there is great danger in the idea of hiding from relationship – from being found, from being saved. There is great danger (hence a thrill) in being lost and there is a subliminal comfort in being found, especially in being found when you have been hiding from your ‘saviour’.
But we are not children. In fact the Scripture encourages us to grow up – not to keep slipping away, in other words, hiding from God. In fact in Hebrews 6: 1 we are told Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.
Then idea that salvation is simply a rescue, a ticket to heaven is a narrow view of salvation. Salvation includes the idea of entering into the wholeness or fulness of God. Does this have something to do with why Jesus keeps interceding for us? Does he keep praying for us today because he wants to see us enjoy the full benefits of lide in God?
The classic case of someone who does not want to grow up is Peter Pan.
- He eschews a relationship with Wendy who wants to mature and have children.
- Instead he goes for Tinkerbell who is not real. She’s flighty (literally) and represents a thrill without commitment. There is a term for that kind of non-relationship.
- His enemy is Captain Hook (an irresponsible father figure if ever there was one) and Hook is pursued by a crocodile with a ticking clock in its stomach. Time is after him and he’s running away from it, from responsibility.
- He ends up as leader of the Lost Boys – that tells us something.
God expects us to take responsibility for our lives, not to keep hiding or running from it, and our reading this morning from Hebrews gives us some clues as to what we should be doing – how we should be responding to God’s salvation.
Hebrews 2: 3 says how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
So if salvation is in Christ alone and not dependent upon our efforts to obey the Law, then what are we to do to mature? How do we grow? How do we avoid being spiritual kindy kids constantly flirting with the idea of being lost and found, of imagining that all we need to do is assure ourselves of a ticket to heaven?
It’s worth remembering that discipleship means a following. We are to follow and imitate Jesus. We are to become like him.
In speaking of Jesus, our Hebrews readings says 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
How does this help us as those who imitate Christ? It seems then we are to learn obedience and we do that through discipline, here translated as ‘suffering’. When we do so we become perfect. Perfect?!
The idea of discipline doesn’t sit easy with us. I’m looking at Ralph right now, one of New Zealand’s accomplished sailors. I see a lot of sailing, as the vicarage overlooks Lake Pupuke. Had Ralph not disciplined himself both physically and mentally in order to master the skills of sailing, he would never have been the the great Olympian he is. If you like the look of sailing and somehow manage to rig a boat correctly but don’t bother to learn how to harness the wind, you’ll eventually give up in frustration,. It takes great discipline to get to the point where you enjoy the thrill of sailing.
So this discipline leads to perfection, says our verse.
I’ve touched on this before but in the New Testament the words frequently translated “perfect,” are the Greek words telefos (adjective form), and teleloo (verb form).
Thayer’s Lexicon of The Greek New Testament gives the following meanings for this word ‘perfect’: brought to its end, wanting nothing necessary to completeness; when used of men it means full-grown, adult, of full age, mature.
So its not perfection we are required to reach, but maturity, and I think this is why Jesus is still praying for us.
I’m not going to dwell on this, but the message is clear:
- Salvation is found in Christ alone
- We enter salvation through repentance and faith
- We are expected to mature
- We do this through a disciplined Christian life
I said you were getting half a sermon today and will probably get the second half on Advent Sunday. We’re going to end with a prayer and there is one word in the prayer that hints at that second sermon. Of course don’t focus on that too much! The prayer stands on its own.
Let us pray:
Lord our God, thank you for the salvation we have in Jesus. Help us not to be hide and seek Christians, flirting at the threshold of your temple, and peeking out at the wasteland outside. Help us instead to engage with the wonders of your presence, to submit ourselves to the far greater joy of the disciplined and committed Christian life, where with Jesus “who became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him”, we might be of productive use with you in that great task of bringing the Good News of Jesus to all humankind. Amen.