John 4.19-26 (NIV)
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
This week our Cub Scout troop had an opportunity to see inside an ambulance … as we sat in the ambulance, learning about all of it’s machines, the things those machines help EMTs keep track of, what they can do to help people who are hurt, I realized, I hadn’t been inside an ambulance before. I also started thinking about all of the opportunities my kids have had to see the insides of things I didn’t get to see until I was a grown up, and in some cases, I still haven’t seen – the insides of ambulances, ambulance barns, fire stations, fire trucks, 911 dispatch centers, the inner workings of post offices and court houses, those massive orange CDOT snowplows, drag racing cars, helicopters …
… I am grateful for the opportunities our kids have to see the insides of so many things a lot of people never get a chance to see.
Today’s reading from Hebrews talks about the insides of the tabernacle … before the temple was built, the tabernacle was ancient Israel’s most holy place, a tent-sanctuary that contained the ark of the covenant a symbol of God’s presence, as they traveled with as they made their way through the wilderness. The tabernacle’s inner room was a place only high priests had the opportunity to see … and even that was just one priest, once a year.
Read • Hebrews 9.1-10
Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna,Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.
When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustrationfor the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
Since Easter, we have been working our way through Hebrews.
Hebrews is an ancient sermon that was most likely intended to encourage a church that was worn out, discouraged, and maybe even close to turning away from the Christian faith. As the preacher attempts to offer encouragement, this ancient church is warned to “pay careful attention, to what they have heard,” the church is reminded “to hold onto the good news of Jesus Christ,” “so that we do not drift away.” The congregation is reminded of the goodness of Jesus Christ … they are reminded who he is … what he has done … and why it is absolutely worthwhile to follow Jesus and hold onto their faith, even if the road is getting difficult.
That message for believers to pay attention so that they do not drift away is just as appropriate today as it was all those years ago.
I know there are people who grow up in churches, who are taught the faith, and who wind up flat out rejecting the Christian faith, but I bet it is more often the case that people slowly drift away from their faith.
I have noticed this with friends I grew up with. They never said they don’t believe in Jesus anymore … they never really made one big decision to reject him … they just drifted away … it was a lot of little decisions that slowly added up. Discipleship, trusting Jesus and learning his way of life is a lifelong journey of paying attention and holding onto the good news of Jesus.
To encourage the church, Hebrews insists Jesus is greater than angels; Jesus is greater than Israel’s most revered leaders; Jesus is the great high priest (Last week we talked about how ancient Israel’s priests operated in an in-between role – they were in-between God and the people, representing God and offering God’s word to God’s people, and in-between the people and God, offering the peoples’ sacrifices and prayers to God.) And today we hear that Jesus is the greatest sacrifice that deals with sin, once and for all.
As we continue in Hebrews chapter 9, we see that Jesus was surprisingly, not only the great high priest, he was also the great sacrifice. This must have been shocking for the people who first heard the gospel. Jesus was the one who entered the holy of holies and offered himself as a sacrifice, to once and for all deal with our sins, and give us clean consciences before God.
Read • Hebrews 9.11-14
But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, a priest would make his way into the innermost, holiest, part of the temple to offer a sacrifice on behalf of himself and the people. Jesus gave himself, as priest and sacrifice, so that we might encounter God in all God’s holiness and fullness.
That is one of the core pieces of our faith – In Jesus Christ we meet … in Jesus we encounter God … in all of God’s love, goodness, and holiness … in Jesus, heaven and earth meet, the innermost curtains of the temple are torn down, and all of life can become an encounter with the holiness of God.
This is a powerful reminder for us as Christ’s church.
We are all about encountering God.
Sometimes we get distracted. Sometimes we get busy and lose sight of it. Hebrews reminds us to pay careful attention … so that we don’t look away … so that we don’t forget … so that we hold onto the good news that in Christ we are invited inside, maybe it would be even more accurate to say that in Christ the inside, the holiness of that inner room of the tabernacle, bursts out – the division between inside and outside and who can meet God where breaks down and we encounter God’s holiness in all the world around us.
This catches me as I prepare for the summer … South Park summers go by so fast. There is so much I want to do this summer … so much I want to do together as a church … so much I want to do as a family … there are so many ways to get distracted rushing around and so many ways to lose sight of the holy encounters we are all about as Christ’s church. I hope I am not assuming too much when I say this, I think racing from one thing to another, and not taking opportunities to reflect on our days and where we have noticed God’s work happening around us, and in us, can cause us to lose sight of the holiness of our lives … the holiness of our work … the sacredness of the journey we are on. One of our special responsibilities as Christ’s church is to have eyes that are open and watching for God encounters. We see God at work, we lead the celebration, we try to figure out how we can maneuver ourselves so that we can be part of what God is doing in our midst.
In Jesus, whatever we are doing, wherever we are, we are on holy ground … we have the opportunity to encounter God … as Christ’s church, we are called to remind each other that all of life is an opportunity to encounter God.