Sermon for November 18, 2012

Sermon for Pentecost 25, Proper 28, Nov. 18, 2012

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Hebrews 10:11-25

Sermon Theme:  A New Look at the Tabernacle


(Sources:  Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas; Anderson’s Workbook, Cycle B)


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


The letter to the Hebrews is one of the most important books in the entire Bible, Old and New Testaments, because it helps us to understand those “pivot” people, the Hebrews, and how they may have influenced us.

We refer to them as “Hebrews” rather than “Jews” or “Israelites,” because most of them were converted Gentiles, so racially and ethnically, they were not Jews.  As with most fairly recent converts to any cause or religion, they were often the most zealous for their newly adopted traditions, Laws and Scriptures.  The language spoken by the Jews was Hebrew, and the Old Testament was originally written in the Hebrew language.

To try to understand what the writer of the letter to the Hebrews was trying to do in this letter, let me begin with an analogy.

You know, there are basically three ways to make a vaccine.  One method is to isolate or create an organism that is unable to cause a full-blown disease but still retains the antigens responsible for inducing the host’s immune response.  One way to do this is to kill the disease-causing organism with formalin.  The polio vaccine uses this type of “killed” or “inactivated” vaccine.

A second way to make a vaccine is to use only the antigenic          (                          ) part of the disease-causing organism, such as the cell wall.  These vaccines are known as “acellular” (                      ) vaccines.  Some influenza vaccines are acellular.

Both acellular and inactivated vaccines require a periodic booster shot to continue a high level of immunity.

A third way of making a vaccine is to weaken or “attenuate” a live microorganism by aging it or altering its growth conditions.  This type of vaccine is most effective because the organisms multiply within the body thus causing a greater immune response.  Attenuated vaccines are used to vaccinate against measles, rubella, and mumps.  Attenuated vaccines require no booster shots.

All three types of vaccines can cause the diseases they are attempting to destroy, so they are not used in any patient who has a compromised immune system.

In some ways, Christ is like the attenuated vaccine.  He offered His sacrifice, once for all; no booster shots are required!

Bible scholars used to think that the Apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews; we now know that he did not.  However the writer was no doubt an Apostle like Paul, but we don’t know which one he was.

Whoever he was, like Paul, he was steeped in Jewish culture, traditions, and Scriptures.  He hopes that by reading his letter, the Hebrews will not give up the Christian faith and return to the Jewish religion, the religion of their conversion.  The Jewish religion was protected by the Roman government, but more and more the Christian religion was being attacked and persecuted by the Romans.  It was more and more difficult to openly affirm Christianity.

At first, the Romans had considered Christianity to be just another version of the Jewish faith, but at this point they considered Christians dangerous, while Jews were protected.  So it would be very tempting for these Gentiles who had been converted to the Jewish faith and then converted further to the Christian faith to want to return to the safety and camaraderie of the general Jewish community and escape the threat of Roman persecution by being Jews rather than Christians.

Since the recipients of this letter were well read in the Old Testament Scriptures and the worship practices of the Tabernacle and the Temple in Jerusalem, the author of the letter uses the Tabernacle as a symbol of all of life. The Tabernacle was essentially a portable Temple, with the Altar of the Burnt Offering, the Holy of Holies, the altar of incense, etc.

In Old Testament times, when God took up residence on earth, the Tabernacle (later the Temple) became a way that sinful human beings could approach God who was holy and perfect.  In the courtyard of the Tabernacle, on the altar of the burnt offering, a sacrificed animal atoned for inner sin and alienation from God.  The bronze sea, ritualistic bath used only by priests and Levites, was a symbol of the inner cleansing necessary for human beings to come before God.  A curtain separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Tabernacle, and only the High Priest could enter this area once a year on the Day of Atonement.

These sacrifices, these rituals, and special observations had to be repeated over and over again.  The cleansing rituals and the animal and grain sacrifices could bring forgiveness of sins or atonement, but the efforts of worshippers were never ending.

What the writer to the Hebrews wanted his readers to realize is the importance of Jesus and that Jesus was able to renew the very bad relationship between humans and God by means of an enormous once-and- for-all action.  Through His sacrifice on the cross these endless rituals and sacrifices became unnecessary.

In a symbolic sense, the cross becomes the altar of burnt offering; baptism becomes the cleansing washing that replaces the waters of the bronze sea; our prayers and the prayers of Jesus become the new incense that rises up to God.  The curtain to the Holy of Holies is ripped away forever, so that humans are able to approach God and stand in His Holy presence.  We no longer need a priest as go-between between us and God.  Our only mediator is Jesus and He Himself is the third person of the Holy Trinity.  We can call Him “friend” and “brother” and we can call God the Father “dearest daddy.”

That is the great good news of the New Covenant.  Jesus has torn away the curtain to the Holy of Holies forever.  We can go to God for all things.

However, says James Nankivell, there are some things we cannot do.  We cannot sow bad habits and reap good character.

We cannot sow jealousy and hatred and reap love and character.

We cannot sow wicked thoughts and reap a clean life.

We cannot sow wrong deeds and live righteously.

We cannot sow crime and get away with it.

WE cannot sow crooked dealings and succeed indefinitely.

We cannot sow disrespect and reap respect.

We cannot sow cruelty and reap kindness.

We cannot sow cowardice and reap courage.

We cannot sow neglect of God and reap strength in temptation.

We cannot sow human thistles and reap human roses.

To be sure, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, we are bold to approach the throne of God.  Hebrews reminds us of three ways to draw near to God:  One, through faith and worship, two through witness to Jesus, and three, through service to one another.  Amen.


The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your heart and minds through Christ Jesus.