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“The Holiness of Christ”
Hebrews 4:15


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost—November 4, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for our message is today’s Epistle Reading from fourth chapter of Hebrews: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.”

The book of Hebrews was written to Christians who were tempted and pressured by society to doubt and fall away from the true faith.  We face the same situation in our day.  We too are tempted and pressured by society to doubt and fall away from the true faith.

You may recall about 20 years ago a controversial movie called “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which blasphemously portrayed Jesus not as the holy Son of God, but as an imposter, and a weak, wicked sinner.  I’m pleased to say that move bombed at the box office, but more recently the successful “DaVinci code” books and movies have portrayed Jesus much the same way.

Although we understand that such books and movies are fiction, we are still tempted with doubts:  Was Jesus really true God and true man, united in one person?  Was he without any sin, as our text from Hebrews says?  Was he the holy Son of God?  Or was he just a man, perhaps a special and unique and great man, but just a man nonetheless, as the world would have us believe?

Jesus is indeed true God.  The opening verses of the Gospel of John use the title the “Word” for his divine nature, and tell us: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  We see the divinity of Jesus in his miracles.  Only God could change water into wine; only God could walk on the waves and calm the storm; only God could heal the sick and even raise the dead.  As Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” 

We are often like doubting Thomas, who said, “Unless I see . . . I will not believe.”  But, when doubting Thomas did see the ultimate miracle of Christ’s resurrection, he finally believed and cried out in faith, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus is indeed true God, and he is also true man, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was made man.  The Gospel of John describes his incarnation this way: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Gospels tell us that, as a man, Jesus was hungry, and thirsty, and tired; as a man Jesus showed emotions, weeping at the grave of his friend Lazarus, overwhelmed with sorrow as he prayed with anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane; and as a man Jesus suffered, died, and was buried.

In the person of Jesus Christ, God and man are united together.  Paul expresses this mystery in Colossians, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.”  And he tells Timothy, “Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body.”

Our text says that the God-man Jesus Christ was “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.”  But, the world says that if he really was human, he must have been a weak, wicked sinner.

It is true that all other humans are completely corrupted by sin and evil.  As the Augsburg Confession of the Lutheran Church says, “Since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. . .  full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs . . . unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. . . this inborn sickness and hereditary sin . . . condemns to the wrath of God and eternal death.”

That is what all of us mere humans deserve because of our sin, the wrath of God and eternal death and damnation in hell.  But, the Augsburg Confession is careful to say this judgment applies only to those “who are born according to the course of nature.”  The one exception to original sin was the God-man Jesus Christ.  He did not inherit a sinful human nature because he was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit. 

As the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you, so the child to be born of you will be the Holy One, and will be called the Son of God.”  Because he is both God and man, Jesus’ human nature is without the stain of sin, holy, pure, perfect.

As a human he was “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.”  Satan’s severest temptation was for Jesus to abandon his mission on earth, not to suffer and die on the cross.  At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry the devil took him to a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and said, “All this I will give you, if you will bow down and worship me.”  But, Jesus replied, “Away from Satan!  For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

Later, when Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must suffer, and die, and rise again, Peter exclaimed, “Never Lord!  This must not happen to you.” “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus said. “For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

And, finally in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he faced the cross and death, his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow and he prayed so earnestly that his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.  “Father, if it be possible,” he prayed, “let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  Paul puts it this way in Philippians: “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.”  Unlike us weak, wicked sinners, Christ did not give in to temptation.  As the Apostle John writes, “He appeared to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”

In the Old Testament the sacrificial lambs could not have any blemish or defect.  Those lambs pointed forward to the coming Savior, who would be the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  God required a perfect, sinless sacrifice to pay for our sins, and not only ours but for the sins of the whole world.  Peter says, “You were redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”  Jesus is the Lamb of God, the ultimate, perfect sacrifice, who as our great high priest was worthy to offer up himself in our place as payment for our sins.  As Paul says in Colossians, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things . . . by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest . . . Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  “The Holiness of Christ” is Good News for you.  As the book of Hebrews says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once, for all.”  Because of “The Holiness of Christ,” when God looks on you he does not see a weak, wicked sinner.  For, God declares you holy through the sacrifice of his own Son.  As Paul says in Romans, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . .  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.”

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest . . . Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.”  When you are tempted to doubt or to deny your faith, with your words or with your actions, approach God’s throne with confidence.  Confidence that because of “The Holiness of Christ” your sins are all forgiven; confidence that you are at peace with God through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross; confidence that for Jesus’ sake your heavenly Father shows you mercy and grace to help you in your time of need.

Legend has it that once when Martin Luther felt strongly tempted by Satan he threw an inkwell at the devil.  Whether or not that story is true, when you feel strongly tempted, like Luther throw at the devil, not an inkwell, but “The Holiness of Christ.” As Luther says, “When the devil snarls and wishes to terrify, then turn your face to Christ and say to the devil: ‘You are a false spirit of lies!  You frighten me with sin and hell, but Christ promises me heaven, righteousness, life, and eternal bliss. You may find sin in me, but you will find no sin in Christ, who is mine, and I am his.  So leave me alone.’”

Because of “The Holiness of Christ” the devil has no hold on you, and can make no charge against you.  That’s what Luther means when he says in “A Mighty Fortress,”  “One little word can slay him.”  The word that slays the devil for you is the Gospel, the Good News of “The Holiness of Christ,” for you.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest . . . Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Amen.

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