Sermon for December 23, 2018, Fourth Sunday in Advent

Hebrews 10:5-10 (Fourth Sunday in Advent—Series C)

“Incarnate Sacrifice”

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

December 23, 2018

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Our text is the Epistle lesson for today recorded in Hebrews 10:

5For this reason, when he came into the world, he said, “A sacrifice and an offering you did not desire, but a body  you prepared for me; 6 with whole burnt offerings and a sin-offering you were not well-pleased.” 7Then I said, “Behold, I have come—it stands written about me in the scroll of the book—to do your will, O God.” 8When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and a sin offering you did not desire nor were you well-pleased with them” (which are offered according to the Law), then he has said, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10By that will we are made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

           The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ can certainly be called the greatest miracle. It was Martin Luther who wrote, “What can be said that is more marvelous than this, that the Son of God assumes the flesh of man and is born of a virgin? What is more astounding than this, that the Son of God, battling with death and the devil, allows Himself to be overcome, offers His life to His enemies, and overcomes while being overcome? And the miracle supreme is this, that the man Christ, who died on the cross, rises from death and from the sealed grave on the third day, ascends to heaven and sits at the right hand of God with His flesh. What can possibly be said, nay, even conceived, that is equal to these miracles?”[1] The Christian Church confesses with the words of the Athanasian Creed, “Therefore, it is the right faith that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is at the same time both God and man. He is God, begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages; and He is man, born from the substance of His mother in this age: perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh.”[2] As we are on the doorstep of the celebration of the Festival of the Nativity of our Lord at Christmas, we consider the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ from the text of Hebrews 10 as the writer illustrates the mystery and wonder of this salvation event.

Hebrews 10 opens as the author establishes that “the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year” can never “make perfect those who draw near.” He concludes in verses 3 and 4, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Since animal blood cannot take away sins, a perfect man steps in to do so. He “comes into the world,” a phrase that reflects the common Jewish term for human birth. He who comes into the world by birth is none other than the Son of God who was made flesh in His conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit.

It is this incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, who undertakes to do His Father’s will by presenting His body—His fully human body and soul—as an offering for the sins of the whole world. Christ in our text quotes Psalm 40:6-8 where He tells us a couple things about Himself. He tells us about the nature and purpose of His coming into the world that involved His incarnation, the assuming of a human “body,” a unique body that God had “prepared” for Him. This truly human body of the God-Man Jesus would then be presented as an offering for the forgiveness of sins and for making all people holy. This would be accomplished on the cross as Jesus offered Himself once for all time as the only perfect sacrifice for ALL sins.

Imagine if you had to offer a bloody animal sacrifice for your sins. Let’s just take the sins of thought, word, desire, and action that we committed in the last 7 days. Can you remember them all? I can’t. No one can. That’s why we confess in the General Confession that we have sinned in all kinds of ways and simply cannot enumerate every one. But sin we have. Every one of us has lived contrary to the will of our Father in heaven because we have disobeyed His commandments. We have failed to love God. We have failed to love our neighbors. We have been unfaithful in our vocations, in our daily callings. We have done wrong and neglected the good. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22 ESV).

But we do not thankfully shed the blood of bulls and goats to obtain the forgiveness of sins. That would be an awful lot of blood! Because by Jesus’ incarnation, He Himself “does away” with all the offerings and the sacrifices “which are offered according to the Law.” After the incarnation of Christ, God does “not desire” them. He is no longer “well-pleased” with them because they have accomplished what they were meant to by foreshadowing Christ’s incarnation. Jesus came to do God’s will by accomplishing all that was written about Him in the “scroll of the book,” the whole Old Testament. By His bodily self-offering on the cross, Jesus fulfilled all of God’s promises and is for us the once-for-all sacrifice that has won the forgiveness of all our sins.[3]

          So it is that Jesus, the Christ, true God and true Man, fulfilled our obligation to keep the Law by His perfect obedience. In our place He suffered and died to pay the penalty for our sins, enduring both death and hell for us on the cross. In His resurrection, Jesus overcame death so that we, too, will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. So it is no longer with sacrifices and offerings with which the Father is well-pleased, but He is well-pleased with the perfect obedience of the life, suffering, and sacrificial death of His One-of-a-Kind Son, Jesus Christ. At His Baptism and at the Transfiguration, the Father declared of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” He is well-pleased with Him who came to do the Father’s will perfectly and to offer Himself on the altar of the cross so that you, me, and all people would be declared forgiven of all our sins, restored to God’s favor, and adopted as the Lord’s heirs of eternal life and salvation.

So it is that you and I are made holy; we are sanctified, “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” By this offering, God accomplishes His will to make us holy by putting to death once for all what is impure, unclean, sinful, and unholy in us through Jesus’ crucifixion. Christ’s self-sacrificial offering cleanses us by removing our sin. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross replaces God’s judgment against us with God’s mercy upon us, and, ultimately, makes us holy through contract with Christ crucified and risen in Holy Baptism. We read in Romans 6, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 6:3-11 ESV).

By grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we are all alive to God in Christ Jesus as His saints, God’s “holy ones.” It is because of the incarnation of God the Son, Jesus, because of the once-for-all offering of His human body in obedience to God, that we are made holy through the forgiveness of sins received in the Means of Grace by the work of the Spirit through the Gospel. The joy of the incarnation of Christ is that no further offering is needed or required for our forgiveness and holiness. Jesus has done everything for us with His perfect life, death, and resurrection so that you and I are now God’s holy people who are empowered to do God’s will through the message of the Gospel of Christ who is true God and true Man, our Savior.

As we prepare to celebrate our Lord’s Incarnation and Birth over the next two days, rejoicing in the God who makes us holy, we pray with Luther in the words of his Christmas hymn:

Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me. (LSB 358:8)

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

[1] Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says (St. Louis: Concordia, 1959), 957.

[2] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 17.

[3] John W. Kleinig, Hebrews, Concordia Commentary (St. Louis: Concordia, 2017), 483.

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