Sermon is from the Lenten Series “Behold the Man!” This is my edited version for use at LCOR.
Hebrews 7:20–28; John 17 (Midweek Lent 1—Behold the Man!)
“A God Who Prays”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 13, 2019
That ust’ve been a sight. I wonder if the Israelites in the wilderness protested at the elaborate details and the exorbitant expense of making high-priestly vestments for Aaron. Did they have to scuttle the plans until the voters could approve of the design and the expense? Did they put it out for bids to see if someone had a source of pure gold or blue dye that they might come in under budget and put the rest in an LCEF account? “I don’t know why one priest needs to be dressed in something way more elaborate and costly than anything we buy or make for ourselves. Does Aaron think he’s better than we are?” “When my grandkids became priests in Egypt, they had to save up all their own money to purchase vestments; no congregation was buying those for them!” “I don’t see why we have to use all this gold; tin would look almost as nice for a tenth of the price!”
Nevertheless, when God commanded what sort of frock Aaron was to be dressed in as he was consecrated as the high priest, His orders were strangely particular. First the ephod, made of gold, with two gold shoulder pieces, each with an engraved onyx stone with six names of the sons of Israel on it, joined together with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linen. Second the breastpiece, matching the ephod, of gold, with blue and scarlet yarns and fine linens, with twelve different stones set in gold settings, and two gold rings to attach it to the ephod. Then, the robe, all blue, with blue and purple and scarlet pomegranates on the hem, interspersed with golden bells. Next, the engraved gold plate attached with a blue cord to the front of Aaron’s turban. Finally, a cloak, the turban, and a sash of fine needlework. All these Aaron is to wear so that when he presides as high priest, he does not die (Exodus 28:6–39).
It’s hard to describe the spiritual meaning of such apparel. Clothing is unavoidably physical. And yet, despite the beauty of those vestments, no matter how real the priesthood of Aaron and his sons, as well as the Levites, they were merely shadows of something more real, of a more permanent priesthood, of a High Priest whose service endures eternally. Aaron’s vestments, like a pastor’s vestments, are a sign of the beauty of the office he occupies, an office that does not truly belong to him, the one who merely stands in between God and His people. The vestments signify neither Aaron nor the pastor, but Christ. The office is beautiful because of Christ, no matter the crudeness and uncouthness of the men in the office.
Aaron, then, is no longer the one to intercede between God and men. Nor am I. But behold the man! There is One to intercede, One who is a Priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek, the priestly King of righteousness. Behold the man who, though also God, intercedes for mankind before God. Behold God who has become man and who, as man, intercedes, prays for, us people.
Who wants an intercessor, a priest, a go-between, though? A go-between implies you are insufficient for the task of getting yourself to God. An intercessor implies that you cannot climb the ladder of heaven to plead your own case. That Jesus takes on human flesh to be an eternal Priest between people and God implies that you, on your own, are not good enough. Because, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re not. Who seeks for God as he ought? Whose thoughts are undistracted in prayer? Whose hatred for (okay, call it annoyance with) his brother does not interfere with the orientation of his prayer? Who loves God perfectly enough to be able to approach Him in prayer? Who keeps the Sabbath perfectly, hears the Word of God gladly and regularly? Who uses the name of God correctly, never letting slip an “Oh, my God” when things don’t go according to plan, and calls upon it regularly, when the catechism prescribes prayer? Who? No one. Well, at least not you. You are a sorry excuse for your own priest. You need someone else to take up your case. So behold the man!
Jesus is the perfect High Priest. Sinful mankind cannot approach a holy God. We need someone to take our place, to plead our case. Behold the man! Jesus has taken your flesh. He will take up your cause before His heavenly Father. In Jesus, God has a voice that He can raise before the Father. He has hands He can fold in prayer. He has a head He can bow correctly and reverently. Behold the man who prays perfectly. Behold the High Priest whose office, whose role, is to pray for you—for you. Behold the man who prays for you without ceasing.
Jesus has hands to raise in prayer. He has eyes so that He can lift them up. He has lips that can shape syllables. He has vocal cords that can craft syllables His Father will hear. He is man so that He can intercede for people. And for what does He pray? For His disciples. For His Church. For you. Because sinners cannot approach a holy God, Jesus intercedes. Because rebellious man’s petitions will fall on deaf ears, the only obedient Son of God has taken flesh in order to pray on your behalf, to give voice to your prayers, to pray for you.
Since you cannot keep yourself from sin, from idolatry, from rebellion, Jesus prays that the Father would keep you: that He would keep you in His name, which was put upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism; that He would keep you from the evil one, which we ask in the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Jesus, as perfect God and man in one person prays for you. Behold the man who prays for you constantly before His heavenly Father.
So, in Jesus, who prays for you without end, you are no longer rebels against your heavenly Father. You are no longer sinful aliens. You are no longer unable to bend the Father’s ear with your petitions. You are in Jesus, and Jesus prays perfectly. Not because you pray regularly or correctly, but because you are in Jesus, your prayers are perfect. Because Jesus fold His hands perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus lifts up His eyes perfectly in prayer, so do you. Because Jesus’ voice is perfectly attuned for prayer, so is yours. Because Jesus is the man who intercedes for the rest of mankind, as a person, you have hope. You have a Lord who prays for you. You have a man who redeems mankind. You have the God who became man for you. You have a Savior. Behold the man, the Priest who bids you to pray and who prays for you without ceasing. Amen.