4 Advent Proper C4                              
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Hebrews 10:5-10 Sermon                                    
December 20, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
6 "Hark The Glad Sound, The Saviour Comes"
10 "The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns"
38 "Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming"
15 "Joy To The World, The Lord Is Come"


TEXT (vs. 5-7; 10):  "5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: 'Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, O God.' 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

            I remember having a conversation with a lady awhile back.  Knowing I was a pastor, she made the comment to me, "I'm not a religious person."  I'm sure that she was trying to have a go at me, or in someway let me know that she wasn't at all interested in whatever religious rhetoric I was trying to peddle.

            However I know that my response to her completely caught her off-guard.  When she told me, "I'm not a religious person," I responded, "Well, that's good; I think religious people are a big pain in the neck."  That certainly was not the response she was expecting from me.

            Maybe my response has kind of startled you.  After all, isn't it my job to take worldly heathen people and turn them into religious people?  Isn't that what pastors are supposed to do?  Isn't that what God wants us to do?  Doesn't God want us to be religious people?

            First of all, I think we need to look at this stereotypical category of "religious people."  Let's see what the Bible has to say about that.  If we look in Acts chapter 17, we see the Apostle Paul mingling amongst some of the greatest philosophical minds in Greece, at a place known as Mars Hill.  The dialogue begins in verses 22-23: "22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.'"

            If somebody is religious, it does not automatically mean someone is a Christian; in fact many times they would be far from it.  Religious people often want to be devoted to something spiritual or supernatural, but they really don't know what that might be.  Or they place a heavy emphasis on ritual and obedience.  They want to be sure all of the i's are dotted, and the t's are crossed.  By their actions, they believe that God will be pleased with them and that they will show themselves worthy of God's blessings.  This of course is exactly what the Pharisees did in Jesus' day.

            As I studied our text for today from the Epistle to the Hebrews, it almost seemed out-of-place.  The Old Testament Lesson talked about Micah's prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem in Judea.  The Gospel Lesson talks about Mary, and recounts her famous song of praise to God after she finds out she is going to bear the Saviour of the world.  These are both very directly tied in to the Christmas theme.

            But when we get to the Epistle reading, the writer to the Hebrews is talking about burnt offerings and sin offerings and sacrifices.  That doesn't have a lot to do with the Christmas theme.  And then when it talks about Christ's body being sacrificed for all--well, that seems more appropriate for Lent and the Passion season.  So how does this all tie in?

            I think there are two major things to which this points us.  First of all, what we do for God is not what matters; it's what God has done for us.  And secondly, the outward religious actions and sacrifices are not what God wants; God wants what's on the inside.  God wants our faith and our trust.  He wants us to come to him, as it says in Psalm 51, with "a broken spirit and a contrite heart."  He's not looking at how religious we can act, or how far we can stick our nose up in the air as we walk around looking down at everybody else.

            I've known some of these "religious" people, those who have a "holier than thou" attitude.  They seem to take offense at just about everything; and are, for lack of a better term, some of the biggest pains in the neck I've ever seen.

            Here's a good example of what I'm talking about.  This happened early in my ministry in Australia during a casual church dinner, or what we called a community lunch--sort of like a pot luck, only on a smaller scale.  Anyway, it was after lunch and we were sitting around on a member's patio having a visit.  This little freckle-faced girl by the name of Racheal wanted to tell a joke she had heard at school.  Now I suppose that her parents should have screened the joke first, but that didn't happen.  She went ahead and told her joke to the whole group.

            Now the joke was perhaps a bit crude, but not really blasphemous or sacrilegious.  And Rachael was the type of girl who could never get a punch line to a joke correct, so she was so proud of the fact that she had finally gotten one right.  She was grinning from ear-to-ear.

            Everybody laughed; and the laughter was because there was more humor in the situation than there was in the joke itself.  However there was one woman who wasn't laughing.  She jerked her head straight, pursed her lips, and began talking about how offended she was about this filth that had come from this child's lips.  And did she ever carry on about this. 

            Afterward, she approach me and asked me what I intended to do about this situation.  Now I've not always been the most tactful person in the world, and I was in the infancy of my ministry, so I told her, "I suggest that you get off your high horse and lighten up a little."  And her husband told me afterward, "thanks pastor."

            This lady was acting like the stereotypical "religious person."  There was a lot of show, but no real depth at all.  She was more concerned about a social faux paus by a little girl.  She had forgotten that this little girl was in church and Sunday School all the time, and she trusted Jesus with all her heart.  And what's even worse, instead of just laughing the situation off like everybody else did, this woman was determined that everybody should be as miserable as she was.  How sad indeed.

            Now I'm not trying to excuse any misbehavior by a little girl.  Most certainly children need to learn the proper and polite way to conduct themselves, especially in a social situation.  However, this woman's response was hardly appropriate either, especially considering that there was no malicious intent by this girl.

            As we prepare ourselves for the coming Christ Child, it is important for us to remember why he came in the first place.  Christ came, so that through nothing but faith in him alone, we would be made holy.  Ever since the fall into sin, mankind has had a broken relationship with God.  We are an unholy bunch of people.  We can go through the motions, we can say the words, we can act pious, we can act offended, we can even attend church.  But nothing we can ever do will repair that broken relationship with God.  Our text for today says in verse 8: "...sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them..."

            All of the pious actions, the offerings, and everything else are not enough to bring sinful people back into fellowship with God.  In fact, when people try to go about things in this manner, God finds this displeasing.  When religious people think that they are getting in good with God by acting like religious people, they are attempting to do things according to their own will and logic, and not God's.  That's not what God wants at all.

            In Matthew chapter 9, we read the account of Jesus calling Matthew as one of his disciples.  When he did this, the "religious Pharisees" got after him for it.  Reading verses 11-13:  "11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, 'Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?' 12 On hearing this, Jesus said, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.'"

            Our text for today gives us a balance between God's Old Testament laws and regulations and the freedom that Christ has given us.  I can only imagine what people had to go through in the years before Christ in trying to keep everything straight.  But verse 9 of our text today says, "...he sets aside the first to establish the second."  Christ came in the flesh to fulfill all of God's law on our behalf.  He did away with all of those ceremonies, because he fulfilled them all himself.  Christ himself would become the sacrifice for sin that would save us all.  Christ established righteousness through nothing more than faith alone, faith in him as our Saviour, faith that is certain we are forgiven, faith that assures us we will spend an eternity in heaven that far surpasses any joy we will ever know on earth.

            It's now that we can look into the manger and see what God has done for us.  And when we do this, we realize that Jesus came to earth--not because of what we have done for God, but because of what God has done for us.  This is God's only begotten Son, the God that took on human flesh and form, the God that became man to live a short time on this earth, so that we would know what it means to be saved by grace through faith alone.

            When I think of the so-called "religious" people on this earth, I can only be reminded of what Jesus said about the "religious Pharisees" of his day.  In Matthew chapter 23 verse 37 he describes them in this manner: "...You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean."  The outside shell may look pretty and perfect, but the inside is hollow and rotten.

            God doesn't want a showcase of pious looking statues that make themselves superior to everybody else.  God doesn't want a world full of religious people.  God wants people to be Christians.  And what kind of people are Christians supposed to be?

            First of all, a Christian needs to see themselves as a sinner who is unable to save themselves.  The Christian knows that they are helpless; therefore they look to God for the help they need.

            And when they look to God, they see the Saviour that was sent from heaven to give them salvation.  This Saviour didn't come to put people through a rigorous set of impossible-to-follow rules and regulations; rather he came to live the perfect life that none of us could.  Then he bore the punishment for sin that we all deserve.

            God through his grace gives us what we don't deserve, and that is a saving faith in Christ, which is a faith that lays hold of what Christ has done for us and makes it our own.  Verse 10 of our text says, "...we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."  That holiness doesn't come from being "religious," but only through faith in Jesus Christ alone.

            The Christian faith is not this complex set of rules and regulations that we all have to follow in order to get into heaven.  Jesus came to this earth to fulfill that law on our behalf, so that heaven would be ours through faith alone.

            Therefore as we get ready to welcome the Christ Child into the world once again in spirit, we can look to that manger and see our freedom.  We're free to be ourselves, we're free to love, and we're free to serve.  God doesn't want heaven to be full of robots under his control; rather, he wants heaven to be full of people who want to be there and haven't rejected the gift of the Saviour.

So come to the manger; come in humble faith--not holding on to outward pious religious acts.  Come and see, not what we have done for God, but what God has done for us out of love, in the flesh of his new-born Son, Jesus Christ, who is indeed our Saviour, our Lord, and our King.