November 15, 2015 - Hebrews 10.11-25

“The End of Religion”

Hebrews 10.11-25

November 15, 2015

 

11 And every priest stands day after day at his service, offering again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12But when Christ* had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, ‘he sat down at the right hand of God’, 13and since then has been waiting ‘until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.’ 14For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,
16 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them
   after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
   and I will write them on their minds’,

17he also adds,
‘I will remember
* their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’
18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

 Therefore, my friends,* since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

 

Good morning, class.  Take out a #2 pencil and a sheet of paper, this morning we have a pop quiz.  I don’t want to hear any complaining; life is a pop quiz.  Plus, this is an easy quiz – only one question, and it’s multiple choice.  Listen carefully.  Which of the following is not a religion?

a) High Fiber Cereal

b) The Wall Street Journal

c) The Atkins Diet

d) the Christian Faith

You can only pick one answer.  Hand your paper to a person near you and correct each other’s quiz.  The correct answer is (d) – the Christian faith.

 

Now I know some of you are going to argue with me on this, perhaps show me a definition from Webster’s or something, but I’m right and you’re wrong.  Christianity is not a religion.

 

Here is an excellent working definition of “religion”, according to Robert Capon:  Religion – the attempt by human beings to establish a right relationship between themselves and something beyond themselves, which they think to be of life giving significance.[1]

 

Religion is the human attempt to get a handle on things, a handle on the key to life, to death, to plug into power, to find the program that leads to happiness, meaning, self-esteem, or whatever it is that gives a person life.  The program may be about God, but it also might be about a new life of products for your skin or hair.  It might be about weight loss, or controlling your diet.  It might even be about getting control of your finances.

 

We are quite resourceful when it comes to trying to save ourselves by ourselves.  We have programs, techniques and methods by which we attempt to establish our relationship with God on the basis of what we do rather than what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  That’s called self-salvation, and it is the goal of every religion.  The good news is that Jesus Christ has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves; namely, make us right with God.

 

The letter to the Hebrews is known for its rich, vivid images of Jesus.  Along with the gospel of John, it is the richest source of our Christology in the New Testament.  Hebrews really digs into who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us.  Today, in Hebrews 10, we again see in this text the image of Jesus as a Priest, an image that is used to describe the significance of Christ, and also the difference that Christ has made.

 

In contrast to the Temple priest system, in which a Priests sacrificed animals for every sin committed, but never fully satisfying the debt, thereby perpetuating an endless cycle of sin and sacrifice, Jesus made a sacrifice “once and for all” and then took his seat at the right hand of God.  In the old system, people could not approach God.  Our sins defile us and we required a Priest to intercede.  But Jesus has made the old system obsolete; through him we are able to approach God.  Jesus has satisfied the need for a sacrifice forever and ever Amen.

 

We live in the only culture that has tried to give us material things to satisfy spiritual needs.  All of these things can become a religion.  Whether it is religiously reading the Wall Street Journal, or the person that hasn’t seen a slice of bread in months because Dr. Atkins says “carbs” are evil, or the person that stares down death and cholesterol by consuming a bowl of sawdust every morning, or the person that tries every herbal supplement that catches on, all of these things are religious in a way that Christianity is not.

 

I know some of you might be confused.  Some of you might want to debate.  Maybe you are saying, “but we go to church every Sunday, we read our Bible every day, and we pray all the time, and we do it to connect with God.  Doesn’t that make this a religion?”  It would if that is what this faith of ours was all about.  It’s not.  We do those things not in order to connect with God; we do those things because God has connected with usWe are not Christians because we are trying to do what we need to do in order to be made right with God; we are Christians because we know what God did for us, in order to make things right.  Christianity is not about what we do; Christianity is about what God did and is doing.  Christianity is not a religion; Christianity is a relationship.

 

It is a relationship between you and God, and Jesus is the only way that could have happened.  Hebrews is pointing out to us that Jesus has made this possible and religion has now become futile.  God has done all the work.  Religions are now obsolete and amount to nothing more than attempts at self-help.  Because of Jesus Christ, we are saved – it has nothing to do with anything we have done.  We just say, “Yes, Lord.”  Jesus did all the work.

 

And yet, all the major religions are increasing in influence and power. Between 1970 and 2005, Christianity soared from 1.2 billion to 2.1 billion. Islam more than doubled, from 554 million to 1.3 billion. Religion is playing more and more of a role in the world today and becoming a dominant factor in current events at the very time religious literacy is plummeting and our educational institutions view religion as of diminishing relevance. [2]  The world is getting more religious but seems to understand God less.

 

Religion is a one-way ticket to failure. The harder you try, the more conscientious you are, the more often you’re impressed with how you get it wrong. Religion sometimes will tell you that it loves the something beyond ourselves with which it is trying to establish a relationship. In fact, it’s not love that motivates religion, it’s appeasement, self-protection, control that is its goal. Bean sprouts and oat bran, I love you? Forget it. It’s called work, hard work which must be gotten right but hardly ever is. We can eat broccoli and brown rice, only to be clobbered by an asteroid. Nobody ever got an A+ on the exam called religion, but since A+ is the only score worth having in get-it-right-or-lose-it religion, religion is always a one-way ticket to failure.

 

Now Jesus came to put an end to religion. Religion as something that human beings must get right in order to have a correct relationship with God, interested Jesus less than golf. Religion – as that which we do when we get serious about our cholesterol, or when we really hunker down and give all we’ve got to our career, or when we really clean up our act morally speaking, separating the good from the bad, the saved from the damned, the in from the out – Jesus could have cared less about. He didn’t get into what we call religion, the anxious, tiring, ultimately futile attempt to get it right because, in him, God made it right. He made the only sacrifice needed to be right with God.

 

Every single religion can be described as a human attempt to reach God.  Christianity is God’s attempt to reach humanity.  God is better at it than we are.

 

Prayer is not a con job to get God to be gracious. God gave us grace on the cross. We don’t baptize, break eucharistic bread, read Scripture in order to beg God to show up. God’s already here. God’s work is done even before the service begins. That’s why Jesus sits. That’s why we call it “gospel,” good news. If it were religion, it would be the bad news that there is still some secret to be unlocked, some ritual to be gotten right, some little sin to be purged, something to get right. But we’re here because in Jesus, this thing between us and God has been
gotten right.

 

What God says to you in Jesus is this: You are forgiven. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is the message Jesus spoke and lived.
     But is it really good news? And for whom? And how does it compare with the messages you may have heard from churches in the past?
     There are other things God could conceivably have said to us. And, we may as well face it, most of us know forms of Christianity that relay a message quite different from this one.
     They say things like this:
     “Good news! If you are very very good, God will love you.”
     Or, “Good news! If you are very very sorry for not having been very very good, God will love you.”
     Or (most insidious of all),
     “Good news! God loves you. Now get back in line before God’s mind changes.”
     These messages may be good news for somebody. They may sound like good news for contented churchgoers – respectable, pious people who feel that they are already pretty much what God wants people to be. They may even sound like good news for people who feel they’ve been extremely wicked and now want to pay for their sins in full. But they’re not good news for ordinary human beings – people who haven’t been extravagantly wicked, but also know that they are far from perfect, at least by the standards of the respectable people of their world, and likely to stay that way.
     Interestingly, Jesus preferred the company of just such ordinary human beings, people without the religious and social status that goes with a very pious and respectable life. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners” – not just once or twice, but repeatedly.
     Presumably, they liked his company, too, since they seem to have invited him back.
     It looks, then, as if the good news was originally good news for ordinary people, people who were not particularly pious, not particularly respectable. To them, God said in Jesus, “You are forgiven.”[3]

 

It is not about anything we have done.  It is not about anything we have to offer God.  It is about what God did for us in Jesus and the cost that it incurred.  It is not about anything we try to do to be good enough for God.  It is not about us being “good” people.  We aren’t good people, folks.  We are sinners.  What Jesus did takes away all that.  Jesus death and resurrection turns sinners into saints.  Jesus is our once and for all priest, and this is the once and for all sacrifice.

 

[1] Capon, Robert; Health, Money and Love, p. 27.

[2] Leonard Sweet, Facebook, November 1, 2015.

[3] L. William Countryman, Good News of Jesus: Reintroducing the G

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