May 312019
 

Ascension 2019

Audio versions of these two meditations are available at https://anchor.fm/mark-haefner

Hebrews 7:23-28

23 There were many who became priests because death prevented any of them from continuing to remain in office. 24 But because this one endures forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 So for this reason he is able to save forever those who come to God through him, because he always lives to plead on their behalf.

    26 This is certainly the kind of high priest we needed: one who is holy, innocent, pure, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices on a daily basis, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. In fact, he sacrificed for sins once and for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses. But the word of the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been brought to his goal forever.

That’s just what I needed! That’s something you might say about a cold drink of water on a hot day. It’s something you might say if you are feeling sad, or lonely, and someone gives you a hug. It’s what the writer to the Hebrews says we can say about Jesus. He’s just the kind of priest I needed!

This begs the question, why do we even need a priest? Because God is holy and we are sinful we need someone to serve as our priest, our mediator. We need someone to represent us before God and to offer sacrifices to God to pay for our sin.

In his grace, God provided for his Old Testament people’s need. He set up a priesthood for them. He designated the family of Levi to serve as priests, and within the family of Levi, the descendants of Aaron to serve as High Priests. He allowed these men to represent the people by coming before him as he revealed his presence in the Tabernacle, and later, the Temple. But even they could not come into God’s presence whenever they wanted. They had to follow all the rules and regulations God had given Moses at Mt. Sinai, and they had to offer sacrifices, first for themselves, and then for the people. You see, they were sinful too. Some of them, like the sons of Eli, even misused their office to enrich themselves and take advantage of women who came to worship. Unfortunately, scandals in the church are nothing new.

By contrast, Jesus meets our need for a priest because he is holy, innocent, pure, separated from sinners. He didn’t become our priest to enrich himself or to take advantage of us. He came to serve. He came to take our place, to be our representative before God. He came to fulfill the law of God; to keep it perfectly in our place. Because he is holy, innocent, pure and separated from sinners, because he never committed a single sin, he didn’t have to offer any sacrifices for himself. The sacrifice he offered was for us, for our sins and the sins of the whole world. He didn’t offer it in the temple in Jerusalem. He offered his sacrifice in the most holy place of heaven of which the earthly temple was only a picture.  His sacrifice is the one to which all other sacrifices pointed.

The Levitical priests were kept very busy. They had to offer many sacrifices day after day because they and the people continued to sin day after day, just as we do. The animal sacrifices they brought didn’t actually pay for sin. They merely pointed ahead to a sacrifice that would pay for sin, the sacrifice of Jesus. He didn’t offer the blood of bulls and goats to God. He offered himself. He offered his perfect life and his innocent death as the once-for-all-time payment for the sin of the world.  The old, earthly priesthood has served its purpose. The fact that the veil in the temple was ripped in two at Jesus’ death is proof that it is no longer needed. Jesus is our eternal High Priest. He is the curtain through which we enter into God’s presence. No more sacrifices are needed. Jesus has offered himself once as the payment in full for all sin.

Jesus is the kind of priest we needed because his service to us, his ministry, is permanent and unending. The ministry of the earthly, Levitical priests was not only imperfect, it always came to an end. Even the best priests got old and died. Even the best priests needed to sleep. They could only be in one place at a time. They weren’t always available when you needed them. But Jesus is a priest forever. His priesthood is permanent. For this reason he is able to save forever those who come to God through him, because he always lives to plead on their behalf.  He neither slumbers nor sleeps. As our ascended Lord he is always with us, he is everywhere we are all the time. There is never a time when he is unavailable. He is constantly pointing to his life and death in our place as the reason that our sins are forgiven and that we can come before God without fear, knowing that he will hear and answer our prayers in the way that is best for us.

  Jesus is just the kind of priest we needed. He offered the perfect sacrifice that the Father accepted as payment in full for the sins of the world, for our sins. He is our constant mediator who never slumbers or sleeps and who always has our best interests in mind. He will never need to be replaced because he has risen from the dead and lives and rules for all eternity.

What a loving and gracious God we have, that, even though we don’t deserve it, he has provided us with just the priest we needed.

 

 

John 14:1-6

 

What troubles you? The contentious nature of politics today? The trade war with China? What troubles you? The growing anti-Christian sentiment in the world today? Personal finances? Medical problems? There could be a very long list of things that trouble us.

The thing that was troubling the disciples was that Jesus was talking about going away. What would they do without him! How could they continue the ministry he started? How would they even survive without him? They were troubled. They were sad.

When someone leaves on a journey, or leaves to go back home after a visit, it’s sad. But, if you know that the person who is leaving is going to do something important, and if you know that you will see them again, it’s easer to handle the sadness. Sadness is replaced by hope and anticipation. That’s the comfort Jesus gave his disciples as they were troubled and saddened that he was going to leave them.

Jesus comforted them by letting them know that he was leaving them to do something important, something that would be of great benefit for them. He was leaving so that he could prepare a place for them.

Jesus was using language that would remind the disciples of Jewish wedding customs. After the groom’s proposal of marriage was accepted by the bride and her family the groom would leave. He would go and prepare a place for his bride to live with him. His father would determine when the place he was preparing was ready. When it was declared ready, the groom would return and carry his bride off to the place he had prepared for them and the celebration of the wedding would begin, often lasting many days. Although the bride was sad that her groom was not with her, she was watching every day to see if he was on his way to get her. Her sadness was replaced by hope and eager anticipation as she awaited his return.

Still today we look forward to our wedding day with eager anticipation. When it arrives we celebrate. It’s one of the happiest times in our lives. Think about the joy of your wedding day. Think about what you felt as your bride walked down the aisle, or as you left the altar as husband and wife for the first time. Think about the joy of celebrating with the family and friends you love. Now multiply that by infinity! That’s the joy that we look forward to when Jesus, our bridegroom hears the Father say, “Everything is ready.” That’s the joy that will be ours when he comes in the clouds of heaven, just as the disciples saw him go into heaven, to take us to be with him at a wedding celebration that never ends; to live in the place he has prepared for us, a place where every evil and every effect of sin has been banished forever.

Jesus told the disciples and he tells us, do not let your heart be troubled. Yes, Jesus has gone away. We can’t see him. But he has gone to do something wonderful for us, and we will see him again. He is preparing a place for us and, when he returns, he will take us to be with him for all eternity.

As comforting as this was, something was still troubling the disciples. Thomas express it. It’s great to look forward to going to a perfect place, a place where there is no sin or evil, only perfection and joy in the presence of Jesus, but if you don’t know how to get there what good is it?

Jesus had to remind the disciples and us that we do know the way. We do know how to get there, because we know Him. He has told us the truth, that he is the one and only savior. He has paid for all our sins in full. He is the life. He is the only one who gives life. He gives us spiritual life as the Holy Spirit lets us hear his voice in the word. Through the word he brings us to trust that Jesus is our savior. He will give us life when we hear his voice on the last day as he returns in glory and he calls us out of our graves. He gives us eternal life through his resurrection from the dead.

What troubles you? Jesus has the cure for whatever troubles you. “Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you may also be where I am. 4 You know where I am going, and you know the way.”

5 “Lord, we don’t know where you are going,” Thomas replied, “so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus said to him, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.  

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