Saints Triumphant Say Thank You Jesus!
In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
You have a lot to be thankful for. And I’m not talking about that First Article laundry list of clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all that you own, that God the Father pours out upon you. Set that aside. Don’t just set them aside. Ignore them. Pretend like you don’t even have them. Maybe some don’t have to pretend. If you don’t have proper, adequate, or any clothing, shoes, food, drink, shelter, family, friends, land, or possessions, if you have no skills and no abilities and no talents, if you have nothing, you still have a lot to be thankful for, because you have Christ.
You have Christ, the priest who offered for all time one sacrifice for sins. You have Christ who made perfect forever those who are being made holy. You have Christ, who caused His Father to forget your sins and lawless acts. You have Christ whose sacrifice was so great, so powerful, so effective, so cosmic, so wondrous, so valuable, so redeeming, so justifying, that there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. You have Christ, who sits at the right hand of God, waiting for His enemies to be totally and completely conquered, which will happen, no doubt about it. You have a lot to be thankful for. That’s why those who are Christians, those who have faith in Christ, those who are saints triumphant, saints now, saints forever, saints declared so on account of Christ, saints whose sins are forgiven, say, “Thank you, Jesus!” THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME PERFECT FOREVER; and THANK YOU FOR MAKING ME HOLY NOW.
Those two things sound identical don’t they? What’s the difference between being made perfect forever and being holy now? It’s an enormous difference. One talks about our salvation. One talks about our Christian life. And to blur the two could put our faith in jeopardy. Let’s look at each individually, by looking at one phrase from Hebrews 10: by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Jesus offered a sacrifice that made perfect people who are being made holy. Already, we see a distinction as we note verb tenses. The sacrifice of Jesus made people perfect. It did something in the past, something that still affects you now. And that something is changing your status before God. Immediately prior to our verses the Spirit says: we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. We were not holy. We are now. Because the one sacrifice for sin that could be offered was offered – Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Because of Christ and through faith in Christ, faith worked by the Spirit who speaks these words, you have been declared saints, saints triumphant, saints whose names are written in the Book of Life, so that, when the voice of Jesus calls you from the grave, it will be to everlasting life, not everlasting shame and contempt. And the writer is emphatic about the nature of this sacrifice. It was done once for all. It was the only possible one that could have effected this perfection, that could have created this holiness, that could have turned sinners into saints, that could have caused God to forget sins and lawless acts. There is no other sacrifice and never ever, ever, ever will be such a sacrifice.
Which is what is so damning about even the slightest possible chance of injecting some sort of sin-erasing effect into a deed of mine: it overturns this once-for-all sacrifice of Christ for sins. It is another gospel. It is eternally damning. It empties the cross of any value. It severs you from grace. This is what is so terrifying about saying, “Well, they did their best! It’s not their fault if they never heard about Jesus!” This is what is so caustic about theology that says I accept Jesus Christ into my heart, or I surrender my life to Him. This is what is so destructive about the Roman Catholic idea that the Mass is a sacrifice offered on behalf of the living and the dead in purgatory. This is what is so insidious about the temptation within me to think that I still need to do something, the temptation to think that Jesus did a job on all the sins committed before I became a Christian, or He washed original sin away, but there’s all these other sins I need to take care of. What “sacrifices” have we set up? Is this why you come to church, go to Bible class, read you Bible, obey the Ten Commandments, go to Communion? Are you trying to offer sacrifices to please God? Are you trying to cover your bases and make sure of your eternal reward? If so, then you’ve missed the point. Christ offered the sacrifice. Christ paid the price. Christ made you perfect, declared you holy, earned you the title saint. You did nothing, Christ did everything. He started the job. He finished the job. There is no longer, and no other, sacrifice for sins. Saints triumphant say thank you Jesus! You did what I could not – made me perfect!
So, what is this being made holy business? Listen: By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Jesus offered a sacrifice that made perfect people who are being made holy. The sacrifice is done. The sins are forgiven. The ransom is paid. Reconciliation has been effected. The verdict has been declared. The gift has been given. Yet, there are ongoing effects of this done-in-the-past sacrifice. It ripples through my life into an ongoing state of being made holy. Because though you are a saint, you still sin. Paul had to say, Nothing good lives in me! Though declared holy, righteous, and perfect, right now, your life is far from it. Which is why Jesus told that woman caught in adultery, Go and sin no more. John told the crowds, Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Because saints don’t sin. Saints are holy and perfect, like God. Saints draw near to God every day in full assurance of faith. Saints hold unswervingly to the hope they profess. Saints consider how to spur one another on to good deeds. Saints don’t give up meeting together around Word and Sacrament. Saints encourage one another. Saints forgive and forget. Saints don’t do any bad things. Yet, there is that tension: “I’m not holy! I’m not perfect! I still sin!” But you heard it here today: “You are being made holy.” Every day is an increase in holiness for you when you are connected to Christ, because, as Jesus said, If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear fruit.
The author of Hebrews goes on to say: since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Made holy, made perfect, declared righteous by the Father on account of the Son, we have every assurance that we can do those holy things. Faith makes all the difference, faith implanted by the Spirit through the Gospel of Christ. Without faith, it’s impossible to please God, but you are not without faith. And you are not without hope. You are not left on your own to produce these things. Did you notice the words from Jeremiah? I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. Faith is a game-changer. Apart from Christ, without faith, you knew only how to obey out of fear and terror. You knew only the letter of the law, if that. You knew how to avoid punishment, how to brown nose and get in good with God or others. But now, God puts His law into your hearts. You get it. As the psalmist says, O, how I love your law, I meditate on it day and night! Luther’s description is apt: Faith, however, is a divine work in us that changes us and makes us to be born anew of God. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O, it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them.
In a sense, faith takes things out of your hands. Yet, that is no excuse to ignore those means by which God creates, implants, and strengthens faith – His incredible means of grace, Word and Sacraments – because there is where we find Christ, our great High Priest, there is where our conscience is cleansed and our bodies washed. There we find our High Priest offer His body as a living sacrifice in our place, being holy for us. There we find Him nailed to the cross for our sins. There we find the tomb empty and the declaration of our innocence. There we find the water that drowns our old Adam and lets us tell sin, “You’re dead to me!” There’s where we find His blood shed, His body given, not just for the world, but for me. There we hear, “The sacrifice has been offered. Your sins are forgotten.”
And I need that. Because though God says, “Perfect.” Though Jesus assures me that in Him I bear fruit. I see evidence all around me of imperfection and rotten apples. But then the words, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, are all the more powerful. Then the Sacrament tastes that much sweeter. As the Lutheran Church confesses: The Mass was instituted so that those who use the Sacrament should remember, in faith, the benefits they receive through Christ and how their anxious consciences are cheered and comforted. To remember Christ is to remember His benefits. It means to realize that they are truly offered to us….Therefore, the Mass is to be used for administering the Sacrament to those that need consolation. Ambrose says, “Because I always sin, I always need to take the medicine.” Saints triumphant, say, “Thank you Jesus!” Amen.