Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, December 17, 2018
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Saved to the Uttermost

Hebrews 7:20-28

 Today is Reformation Sunday, which is the last Sunday of October in celebration of the Protestant Reformation.  The reason for the date is that the Reformation “officially” began on October 31, 1517, which was the day when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Germany, protesting against the gross theological errors in the medieval Church.  This is not exactly a “holy day” in the Christian faith, but it is an important day, especially for us, since we are part of a denomination whose roots go back to the Reformation.  

 The Reformation centered around a handful of key truths, which had been abused and corrupted in medieval theology.  They are each remembered by a short Latin phrase that gives the essence of them.  

The first is sola gratia, “by grace alone.”  We are saved by grace alone, not by our own works, so that none of us can boast of our salvation.  It is a gift of God.  The second is sola fide, “by faith alone.”  Grace is received through faith alone.  Medieval theology had come to understand salvation as something other than just a gift of God.  In medieval theology, salvation was by grace, but grace was received not just for faith, but also for certain works. 

The Reformers contended that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  That was the third great Reformation truth:  sola Christus, by Christ alone.  The only object of our faith is Jesus Christ.  And finally, the reformers affirmed sola Scriptura, Scripture alone.  The medieval church had equated church tradition and church teaching to the same level as Scripture.  

Those were the issues over which the Reformation occurred, and today we remember those who called the Church back to its biblical foundation in a salvation that is the work of God and not our work.  

I think today’s Scripture is appropriate to the day because it speaks about the sufficiency of Jesus Christ to save us completely, that nothing needs to be added to the work of Christ.  Christ is able to do this because he is unlike any other priest who came before him.

Now for us as Protestant Christians, any discussion of priests might be rather foreign.  But the first people to read the Letter to the Hebrews were either Jewish

Christians or Jews who were considering the Christian faith.  For them, the concept of priesthood was very meaningful.  They had lived in a society in which their relationship to God had been mediated through priests for more than a millennium.  And for many of them, the thought of leaving their own ways and entering into a Christian faith that “had no priest but Jesus” was difficult.  So the writer to the Hebrews sets out to remind them that this system they had known for so long was imperfect.  But the new way of Jesus lacks nothing.

The old system of priesthood was flawed because the priests were ordinary human beings.  The descendants of Aaron, who were the only ones who could function as priests in Hebrew society, were just as much sinners as anyone else.  

One of the symptoms of their sinfulness is that there were many of them.  They all grew old and died because they were sinners.  

And the very repetition of the system showed it was imperfect.  How could something be perfect if it has to be repeated year after year?  Is there such a thing as a perfect light bulb?  No.  I know that because I have to replace them from time to time.  If they were perfect, they wouldn’t burn out.  Anything that has to be repeated over and over is lacking in some way.  

In the case of the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, it had to be repeated over and over.  There were daily sacrifices for the sins of the nation.  The high priest did not necessarily do all of those.  But he was required to do the annual sacrifice for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  

When that day came, there was an elaborate ritual for the high priest in order to try to “protect him” from sin.  He was sequestered for a week before the ceremony, so that he would not come into contact with anything that might defile him.  The night before the sacrifice, he was not allowed to sleep, lest he “sin in his dreams.”  But even after all this was done, he still had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins before he dressed to do his duties as high priest for the sins of the nation.  

Clearly, this was an imperfect system.  It could not remove the guilt of sin, and it was carried out repeatedly by sinful human beings.  

But Jesus is a different kind of high priest.  

First, he is of a different order.  As Hebrews said, he was a priest like Melchizadek, not like Aaron.  Melchizadek was a priest of God in the book of Genesis, hundreds of years before Aaron and his descendants, who were the priests according to the Law of Moses.  The fact that Jesus was a priest of an “older order” would mean to the Hebrew mind that he was of a greater order, since greater age was typically associated with greater status in Hebrew culture.

Second, Jesus became a priest in a different way.  He was not a priest by birth into a certain family.  He became a priest by the “oath of God.”  Now God, being God, does not need to take an oath for his word to be trustworthy.  So if God does take an oath, it shows us how important that thing is.  And in the Psalms, it said of the Messiah that God takes an oath that he will be a priest forever in the order of Melchizadek.  And a Hebrew reader would affirm that God’s oath is greater than his Law.  

Third, Jesus is unlike any other priest in that he is sinless, holy, blameless, set apart from sinners.  As such, he is also an eternal priest who never needs to leave his office due to his death.  

And finally, not only is Jesus a different kind of priest, but he offers a different kind of sacrifice, a perfect sacrifice, which is himself.  He is both the perfect priest and the perfect sacrifice in one person.  

Therefore, Jesus is able to save in a way that no other priest could.  Verse 25 says, in the original Greek, that he is able to save EIS TO PANTALES.  What does that mean?  It’s a phrase that is not easy to translate into English.  It could mean “to the end,” as in forever.  But it can also mean “to the uttermost, to extreme limits, or completely.”  I think that might be the better way to understand this verse.  Jesus is able to save without any limits.  

Do we believe that?  Do we affirm that there are no limits to the salvation that Jesus offers?  I think that sometimes we struggle to affirm that.  

For example, one of the great debates in the Church today is over the issue of homosexuality.  Can Jesus save a person who is homosexual, and if so, what does that look like?  Some people think the answer is no.  On the other hand, there are some who would say that Jesus “can’t change a person’s sexual orientation.”  But what I come back to is this:  Jesus Christ is able to save a person from any sin and from every sin.  

And I’m not just talking about the distant future, way out there, some day.  I believe Jesus can deliver us from any sin today.  

The rest of verse 25 reads that Jesus lives forever in the presence of God to intercede for us.  That is a very important truth.  Because if it’s not for that, where is Jesus in relationship to the Church today?  If Jesus is not at the right hand of the Father, pleading for the Church, where is he?  

Without this understanding, the Church lives in a barren desert between “He died and rose again and ascended into heaven” and “He will come again.”  Salvation is not simply a “past event,” the cross and the empty tomb.  Nor is salvation just a future hope:  “He’s coming back.”  Salvation is a present possibility.  Christ can save you, deliver you, from whatever troubles your soul today.  He can save you to the uttermost, and he wants you to experience that salvation today.  

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