Archive for the ‘Hebrews 12:4-24’ Category

“We May Touch What May Not Be Touched!”

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 22, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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 This morning, God calls us to touch what others may not touch; He calls us to enter into an eternal place of rest, peace, and joy that others have been barred from entering.  We have come to listen to the inerrant Word of God, to remember our baptism, feast at His table, and simply receive these things and believe that through them we have peace with God.  And as we come and receive, we know that there are still others who out-right refuse to hear this Word or they will hear it and then change it so that it agrees with their sinful way of life.

This morning friends, God is assuring us that that through His simple yet holy means of grace, we have a God who loves us and will never do us any harm.  By faith in God’s promise of forgiveness and love, we know that we can only come to Him by entering through the narrow way of the cross and repentance.

I. Yes, because of faith in the cross of Jesus Christ, we know that we are saints, but we also know that we are at the same time sinners.  We know that like the disciple in our gospel reading, our sinful flesh wants to look into things that are not for us to know.  We want to ask questions that God has not provided the answer to; we want to know if our family, friends, and neighbors will be saved.  The disciple showed this sinfulness when he asked Jesus, “Will those who are saved be few?”  What he was really asking and saying to our Lord was, “Lord, will only the few of us who are following you enter into heaven with you?  That doesn’t seem fair!”  Either way we ask the question, Jesus is telling us that we are asking the wrong question.  He’s telling us that He won’t answer that kind of general and academic question.  He wants us to ask the right question.  What’s the right question?  Well the right question is this, “How can I be saved?”  He telling you not to worry about your family, friends, and neighbors salvation, that’s God’s job; instead Jesus wants you to worry about your own relationship with Him.   

“But how?” we ask, and Jesus answers us this way, “You must strive to enter through the narrow door.”  What is the narrow door?  It is the cross and repentance.  Through the cross we are assured that we have a God who is for us and not against us.  Through the cross and the living Word of God, Jesus promises you that by His suffering and death He has assured you of eternal life and the forgiveness of sin.  And then by that same Word He gives you the gift of faith to live out this forgiveness.  Through His cross, Jesus then leads you to your own cross of suffering and shame which is found in a life of repentance.

Repentance simply means rejecting the desires of our sinful flesh and then struggling to live a life that is in line with God’s will.  Repentance means turning away from the world and turning to the Cross of Jesus Christ.  As we said last week, each of us has been called to be a theologian of the cross.  We are to call a thing what it truly is.  If God’s Word says that something is sin then so do we, regardless of what our society or even our own logic tells us. We know that we are called to reject the sinful self-glorifying ways of the world.  When we turn from this theology of glory and turn to a theology of the cross we are living a life of repentance!

II. This morning, our epistle lesson tells us that this life under the cross is a struggle.  It requires God’s discipline and even our own self-discipline.  It requires discipline that hurts.  The originals readers of this letter to the Hebrews were Christian Jews living in Rome who were taught the good news about Jesus Christ.  They eagerly received Christ as their Lord and Savior.  They desired to live under grace at all costs; at least that’s what they told themselves.  You see when they became targets of animosity and persecution from non-believing Jews, one by one they left the message of God’s unmerited love through Jesus Christ and they began to sink back into their old way of following the law of Moses in order to please God.  Their Christianity became wimpy, weak, and lame.  It became a theology of glory.  They were following the age old mantra of every sinful society, “Go along to get along!  Roll with the flow!”

Now the writer of this letter was telling the Hebrews to think about what they were really doing.  They were rejecting the cross and grace of Jesus Christ and turning to the glory of the sinful world, all so that they might have an easier life.  He was encouraging them to look at their sufferings in a different light with these words, “In your struggle against sin you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood (have you?).  And have you forgotten the (encouraging words) that address you as sons?” [Heb. 12:4,5a]  What the author of this letter was doing was reminding them how far they had fallen.  He was saying, “You are sons and daughters of the Most High God!  You are children of the King of the Universe; the Creator of All Things; your Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ!  You have peace with God!  Are you really ready to abandon all of this?”  I know how they must have replied because I know how many in similar circumstance reply to me today.  They probably said something like this, “But pastor, that’s just our opinion or belief.  I’m not going to confront someone with an opinion.  Besides, it’s hard living a life of faith when I’m in the minority.  You don’t hear the words they call me or the mean and hateful way they treat me.  They call me ignorant and hateful.  We have our way of believing and they have theirs.  I simply am agreeing that my way is no better than theirs.”

And to this way of thinking, God replies, “Oh?  I thought that it was my way; the way of the cross?  Have you had to shed your own blood because of their evil treatment of you?  I did you know; and I did it for you!”  “But you are God” we reply.  And to that your Savior replies, “But look at how many martyrs shed their blood and gave their lives so that you would be able to hear my blessed Word and know a life of repentance and forgiveness.  Think of how much courage it took for them to obediently gather a congregation so that you would be able to receive the blessed sacraments of baptism and the holy supper.  What if those who went before you also decided to go with the flow, and to go along to get along?  Where would you be?”

III. This morning friends, this truth from God is also for us.  It is the same truth that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was encouraging those Christian Jews to hold onto.  What is that truth?  It is the inerrant and complete Word of God.  The message that comes to us in Law and Gospel!  We are facing and enemy that wants us to water down God’s Holy Word.  They want us to call good the sinful ways that God is already called evil.  Oh its true, that following God’s inerrant Word and refusing to back down will bring hatred and yes, maybe even persecution, but we must remember that it’s hatred and persecution that God has allowed to come our way for His sake; for the sake of Jesus Christ!  God is using this persecution in a way that’s always correcting us; driving out the sin that is still in us, and drawing us closer to Him.  When we stand up for Him, He draws closer to us!  Listen, wouldn’t you do the same thing if someone was attacking the character of you earthly parents?  Shouldn’t we do even more for our Heavenly Father?!

Now, to the outside world, our suffering doesn’t look any different than the suffering of those who have rejected God’s plan of the cross and repentance, but to God we are His precious saints who are demonstrating to a sinful world His most valuable essence that He has given to us… holiness!  While holiness is what we are assured of when our race here on earth is over, it also the very thing that we are to work and suffer for while we are running the race.  And like an athlete that is training to receive the prize, we are always keeping our eyes on that great reward… peace with God!  In essence friends, we are partakers of God’s holiness now although it is true that perfect holiness will only be ours when we enter our rest in heaven.

Do you really want to throw this reality and promise away?  Do you really want to shrink away from the challenge of living out God’s will and speaking out His Word when called upon to give a witness?  If that is really your intention, then God wants you to know what the consequence will be.  You will not be allowed to enter the Holy City of Zion and the Assembly of Saints to which you have been called!  You will be told “You may not touch and you may not enter!”  And when you hear those words, you will say, ‘Lord, open to (me)’, then Jesus Himself will say, “I don’t know where you come from.”  “But Lord” you will say, I was baptized in your church.  I ate and drank at your Holy Table.  You taught me from your pulpit!  Don’t you remember?”  But Jesus will say, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, you worker of evil!”  And He will banish you eternally to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth; a place where you will be able to see all of the blessings of heaven and all of the faithful saints who lived a life of repentance under the cross but never able to touch or to enter.  That is what is meant by the first being last.  For the last there is no reward; there is no prize!  The last will be those who lived as if they had faith but their real desire was to live a life of ease here on earth and in doing so they rejected a life of peace in heaven.

CONCLUSION: Dear saints, because you are resting in God’s grace through Jesus Christ and because you are struggling to remain faithful to His Word you are continually strengthened through His means of grace so that you will not fall out of faith.  Through His Word and Sacraments you are always assured that you already have peace with God and a place at His banquet table in heaven.  You have nothing to fear. And when you discover that you’ve sinned and fallen short of God’s will for you, don’t let that sin separate you from God’s love which is yours through Jesus Christ; instead God is simply calling you to repent, turn away from that sin and then turn to the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is a cross that calls you to follow your savior by faith and trust in Him even when others will ridicule you because of that faith.  This is your cross; this is your struggle, but it is also the very thing that assures you that you may touch those things which others cannot and you may enter where others have been barred.  We do this together as His church and  I pray that we will live out this truth, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!