Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen
“So what you preach on today, Dad? Jesus?”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that from my kids on a Sunday afternoon. It’s a safe bet. Even when I don’t mention Jesus by name, to speak about God’s word is to speak about Jesus as the Word, and so he’s always the subject.
And if the sermon has anything to do with what God is doing, and I’d like to believe every sermon I preach does, it’s also then about what Jesus is doing, for he and the Father are one.
On Christmas Eve I explored Mary’s question, “How can this be?”, and shared that I believe the biggest miracle of all in the Christmas story is that through Jesus, that baby lying in a manger full of grace, God could bring salvation to all. To all. Not just to some, but to all. A gift freely given.
If the question on Christmas was “How?” the question today, based on the Hebrews text, is “Why?” “Why did he come? And What did he do?”
In answering the “Why?” and the “What?” of Jesus life the Church, the Bible, and Christian teaching has focused on three different dimensions of Jesus’ life and work.
Each of these understandings is very different from the other, yet all of them speak to the truth of who Jesus is. There’s not one right answer, but many right answers because each of them employs human analogies, none of which are sufficient to convey the mystery of God in Jesus.
And so, from three different directions, each image sheds light on Jesus, even if only partially.
They also work off each other as correctives. By having three different understanding of the “Why?” and the “What?” of Jesus life it helps to prevent us from pushing any of these images too far.
The three understands of Jesus are all present in the passage from Hebrews. They are:
Jesus, our Brother.
Jesus, our Savior.
And finally, Jesus, Lamb of God. That is, Jesus the sacrificial lamb that died to take away our sin.
Jesus, our Brother:
“10It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, 12saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.” 13And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Here am I and the children whom God has given me.” 14Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, . . .”
Jesus, our Savior:
“so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.”
And finally, Jesus the sacrificial lamb:
“Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”
And of course we know that when we speak of Jesus making the sacrifice of atonement, he speaks of the sacrifice of his own life.
When we speak of Jesus as our brother, and God as our Father, we are in a relational model, a family model, and the end game is an intimate oneness between all of us.
The ‘evil’ in this relationship model is separation and estrangement from God as our Father, and Jesus our brother, and also all our other brothers and sisters.
When we speak of Jesus as our Savior, the evil of which we are concerned is an evil that is beyond ourself. It is an enemy that threatens to undo us. It is that evil power that must be defeated, whether we speak of it as the devil or death itself. The end game here is that we are freed from our bondage and slavery to these evil powers.
And finally, when we speak about Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, we speak of evil as the sin within us that must be atoned for. Our guilt and shame are the problem. Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice to atone for our sins and achieve forgiveness for us.
Well, what is true?
The answer is that all of these understandings are true, even though quite different.
Well, what is most helpful?
That depends on your situation in life.
If you feel lonely and afraid, like an outsider, then Jesus as your brother who reconciles you to your Father in Heaven and your brothers and sisters on earth will ring especially true and helpful.
If you feel under attack from evil beyond yourselves, including every form of earthly evil including our own mortality and death, as well as evil powers and principalities, then Jesus as our Savior will bring great comfort to you.
And if you are overwhelmed with your own failures, the Jesus the atoning sacrifice for your sin will bring you peace of mind and wellness.
We see all of these situations in life expressed in the Gospel lesson for today that speaks about Mary and Joseph fleeing into Egypt following Jesus’ birth.
When they were refugees who sought asylum in Egypt they experienced isolation from their family as they waited for the time when they might return home, once again.
Both they and the people of Bethlehem were victims of the oppressive and evil reign of Herod, who sought to kill Jesus and did murder all those children in Bethlehem.
And finally Herod was guilty of a great sin and needed forgiveness.
In speaking of these three dimensions of Christ’s work, it is important to remember that whether we speak of Christ as our brother, or savior, or as the One who died for us, we are speaking of what Jesus did, not us.
It’s all about Jesus.
We talk about the Law and the Gospel.
When we speak about the Law, it is always about what we do or fail to do, and the judgment that results. And rather than being found righteous, we will always fall short. We stand condemned in the face of the Law.
On the other hand, when we speak of the Gospel it is always about what Jesus has done and Jesus did not fail. That’s what makes the Gospel good news.
And finally, because the Gospel is and always will be the work of Christ, not us, we do not get to judge. Period. It’s above our pay grade.
We don’t get to judge who Jesus reconciled to the Father.
We don’t get to judge who Jesus set free from the power of evil.
And we don’t get to judge to whom Jesus offered forgiveness.
You see, all these things are the work of Jesus; it’s why he came and what he did. For us to judge one another is for us to judge Jesus himself.
Let’s just pause and let that sink in.
If I ever say that you, or anyone else including myself, are not saved, I am judging Jesus as a failure.
I am judging Jesus.
That’s not something I’m qualified to do.
What we are called to do is not judge Jesus, but to proclaim Jesus and the work that he does.
Jesus reconciles us with God and one another.
Jesus defeats evil.
Jesus atones for our sin.
In the end, any judgment belongs exclusively to Jesus, not us. Exclusively.
And should we ever fear that judgment, we need only remember that the judge, Jesus, is also the one who came to save us.