April 10, 2011
Sermon for Passion Sunday
Christ Our Great Saviour
April 10, 2011
Holy Trinity Anglican Orthodox Church
Today is Passion Sunday in our Anglican cycle of prayer and worship. Passion does not mean intense feeling, and it certainly does not refer to lust. The word is actually a Greek word meaning to suffer. So we are not talking today about Christ’s emotional feelings about us, we are talking today about His suffering for us, especially His rejection, trial, crucifixion, and death. This is what we refer to when we talk about the Passion of Christ.
Usually, when we talk about the Passion of Christ, we try to put it in terms of how it applies to us personally. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact it is absolutely essential, because the forgiveness He purchased by His Passion is for those who believe. It is for those who have come to understand their sin and need of forgiveness, and to believe that Christ’s death secured the forgiveness of their personal and specific sins. So every real Christian has made a personal decision to trust in Christ, and has a conscious awareness of trust in Him alone to make him right with God. But today I hope to emphasise the great Saviour who laid down His life for the sheep.
Suppose you had to offer an animal sacrifice every time you sin. Sheep would be on the endangered species list, wouldn’t they? But imagine how costly that would be for you. Only the very best and most valuable of sheep qualified to be sacrificed. It was those without blemish, the most valuable for breeding and herd improvement that were offered to God. Without blemish does not mean, “nice looking.” It means to be without physical defect. I don’t know much about sheep, but I know something about horses and cattle, and I can spot physical defects that make them undesirable for breeding purposes, and for general use. I once had a horse that “paddled.” That means that, instead of moving his legs and feet in a straight line, he moved his front feet in a kind of circular motion, almost the way a swimmer moves his arms in the water. That is not a major defect for a pleasure horse, but it would be fatal in a racehorse because the extra motion takes extra time and energy, and it puts extra stress on the muscles and joints. So a paddler would probably go lame under the stress of racing. A person having two horses, one a paddler and one that tracks straight would know that the paddler is the less valuable of the two. It would be the same way in sheep, and the ones God demanded in sacrifice were always the very best and most valuable, so having to offer a sacrifice for your own sins would be very costly.
In addition to the cost, any sacrifice you could make would not really atone for your sins. The Old Testament sacrifices were symbolic. They served only to make a person symbolically clean. They could never cleanse the soul of sin. Therefore, you need more than a sacrifice; you need a Saviour. This leads us to the point of our Epistle reading for the day, the absolute superiority of Christ and the absolute effectiveness of His sacrifice.
Christ is superior to any sacrifice we could ever offer. There are several reasons for this. First, of course is that He is God in the flesh. He came down from Heaven to accomplish our salvation. He is by nature superior to all people, and His works are superior to those of all people. The second reason is found in the fact that His sacrifice was offered in the true Holy of Holies, not in a Temple or Tabernacle made by human hands. The Temple in Jerusalem contained a special place called the Holy of Holies. In this place rested the Altar on which the sacrifice was offered yearly on the Day of Atonement, called Yom Kippur by the Jews. It was a dreaded place in many ways, for it symbolized the abiding presence of God whose holiness is a consuming fire, whom no man can see and live, and who is justly angry at sinners. Only the High Priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies, and even he was allowed in only once on Yom Kippur, after a night of prayer and fasting. Before he entered, a rope was tied around his waist. This rope was long enough to trail behind him so that a substantial portion of it remained outside of the Holy place while he was in there. The purpose of the rope was to pull him out if he died in the presence of God. So the Holy of Holies was a place of fear and awe. Yet even it was only a symbol. It could only house the glory of God in a symbolic way. But Christ entered into the true Holy of Holies. What is the true Holy of Holies? It is the immediate presence of God. It is the real and true and full presence and being of God. Third, Christ was a superior sacrifice because only He could take away our sins. One of the great points of the book of Hebrews is that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament never saved anyone. They were only shadows and symbols of the sacrifice of Christ. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins,” says Hebrews 10:4. But John 1:29 says of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” There is nothing any person can ever do to make him or her self acceptable to God. There is no sacrifice we can make that will ever atone for our sins. No good deeds or noble thoughts will ever cleanse our souls of the guilt of sin, or pay the penalty of it for us. But God can. God did, by dying for our sins on the cross in Christ. That is why the sacrifice of Christ is absolutely superior to any and every other sacrifice. Only He can atone for our sins.
The sacrifice of Christ is absolutely effective. It never fails. It always accomplishes the purpose for which Christ died. There has never been a single person who cried out to Christ who has been rejected or not been saved and forgiven to the fullest measure. When the Philippian Jailer fell to his knees before Paul and cried out, “what must I do to be saved?” the Apostle did not tell him to go on a mighty quest, to battle dragons and demons or do great deeds of valour. He said only, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). Trust in Jesus. Trust in His sacrifice to atone for all your sins, and it will be done. “Nothing,” Christ promised, “Nothing,” is able to pluck us out of the Father’s hand. Our God is strong to save. “I know whom I have believed,” wrote the Apostle Paul to Timothy, “and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day” (2 Tim 1:12). He “is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24).
This is our Saviour. This is our hope and trust. The One who came down from Heaven, who died, who rolled away the stone from the tomb and rose again from the dead, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in us, who is coming back to receive us unto Himself, is the One we trust with our lives and our souls forever. Thanks be to God.