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The New Covenant that Changes Everything

Maundy Thursday

The New Covenant that Changes Everything

Text: Hebrews 10:15-25

613.  Jewish tradition teaches that there are 613 commandments in the laws of Moses.  Could you even imagine keeping straight 613 commandments?  Most people I’ve met don’t even know all 10 Commandments.  How could you keep straight 613?  There were laws about cleanliness, laws about family, laws about civil justice, laws about worship and festivals and sacrifices.  613 laws to obey.

These laws served as a sort of hedge for the people of Israel.  They set them apart as being “different” than all the other people of the world.  They were cleaner.  They were more pure.  They were more sanctified in their living.  They were more dedicated to their God.  Thus, God told them that if they obeyed he would be their God and they would be his people.  If they obeyed, that is.

When they didn’t obey, that’s what the system of sacrifices was for.  If you committed this sin, then this sacrifice was required.  And if you committed that sin, then that sacrifice was required.  The message was loud and clear: God is holy.  If there is sin, there must be death and bloodshed to pay for it. Read the rest of this entry

Christmas Wonder and Awe

Christmas Day

Christmas Wonder and Awe

Text:  Hebrews 1:1-9

Intro

Do you still have that awe and wonder at Christmas?  That’s what we are all looking for.  We want that awe, that wonder, that feeling of utter joy at Christmas.  You know the feeling.  It’s when your child (or spouse) suddenly appears, having returned from military deployment.  It’s that look on your kids’ faces when they see the coolest gift ever.  It’s those quiet moments on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day when the whole family is bundled up in jammies and blankets and simply enjoys quality family time and reprieve from the bustle of busy life.

In Hollywood they call it “Christmas magic.”  A lot of money has been made off the concept of Christmas magic.  Whether it’s snow finally hitting in Vermont for Bing Crosby in White Christmas, or Jimmy Stewart finding happiness in It’s a Wonderful Life, or Ebenezer Scrooge learning to be generous, or a brand new bee bee gun in A Christmas Story, or a young boy riding The Polar Express to Santa’s workshop—we love to watch every minute of a story with “Christmas magic.”  Why?  Because we relate to this.  We love to be filled with awe and wonder at Christmas. Read the rest of this entry

Follow Christ and Live By Faith

8th Sunday after Pentecost

Follow Christ and Live By Faith

Text: Hebrews 11:24-26

Intro

Are you a value shopper?  I’m sure you are.  The U.S. economy, and perhaps even the Flagler County economy, are both plateauing a bit after rising for a while.  Yet how much America recovers remains to be seen.  The cost of gas is still skyrocketing.  The cost of cheese in Florida is ridiculous.  If I weren’t from Wisconsin I would almost think twice about how necessary it is.  In these uncertain times then, it’s important to be a value shopper.

Clip your coupons.  Go to stores like Walmart or Best Buy that honor coupons from other stores.  Shop the best deals.  Get the “But 1, Get 1” deals at Winn Dixie.  Buy in bulk at Sam’s Club or Costco.  Wait for the Black Friday super discount deals.

These days we are trained to find great value buys.  These are the deals where it will never cost that low again.  These are the deals when Mr. Loberger walks into Besty Buy to buy a TV, finds all school supplies on sale, and buys literally every school supply in the store—$3,000 worth of supplies for $300 (true story).  That’s value!

There’s another use of the word value in our culture though.  That’s when something is valuable.  It might be small.  It might be expensive.  But that doesn’t matter if it’s valuable.  The personally autographed photo my dad got from Mickey Mantle when my aunt was in the hospital at the same time is priceless and valuable.  The copy of the red pew hymnal my family has signed by my grandfather who was on the hymnal production committee is priceless and valuable for a different reason.  My wedding ring is modestly pricey, yet still priceless and valuable.  The look on the kids’ faces when they found out we were going to Disney World a few weeks ago cost nothing but was priceless and valuable.

Almost everything we have we discuss in terms of value.  We have Zillow and other web sites or appraisers to value our homes.  Kelly Blue Book tells us how much our car is worth.  The Antique Road Show on PBS tells us how much the ancient garbage in our garage is worth.  The dollars flying out of our wallet tell us how much our spouse or our children are worth.  We love things that are either a bargain value or things that are valuable. Read the rest of this entry

God Fulfilled His New Covenant Promise

Maundy Thursday

God Fulfilled His New Covenant Promise

Text: Hebrews 10:15-25

Intro

If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands . . . I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people . . . But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant . . . I will bring on you sudden terror . . . I will set my face against you . . . I will punish you for your sins.”

It couldn’t be more simple than that.  God established a very clear covenant with his people.  A covenant is a contract agreement between two parties.  This was the simple covenant God established with his people at Mt. Sinai:  If you obey me and my commands, I will bless you and be with you.  If you do not obey, I will turn from you and punish you for your sins.

God didn’t use hidden codes or secret passwords or confusing words.  He laid out the covenant ground rules in clear and easy to understand language.  You would think that they would have listened and kept the simple terms to this covenant.  After all, with such great promises of blessing from God, why wouldn’t they want to keep the covenant?

We tend to think that way often.  We tell our children not to play with the fine china and not to sass back and not to fight with each other.  Why wouldn’t they want to listen?  Don’t they want special privileges and treats from their parents?  Do they really want to spend the whole day in their rooms with no friends, no toys, and no electronics?

We think the same way in our school.  We tell students to be on time, to wear their uniforms to school, to do their homework, to be respectful to each other and to teachers.  Wouldn’t they want to listen?  Don’t they want good grades on tests and report cards?  Don’t they want special privileges and extra recess time?  Do they really want tardies, detentions, suspensions, or expulsion?

The covenant contract seemed to be so simple and easy.  But the evil sinful nature knows better and wants otherwise.  And Satan knows better and wants otherwise. Read the rest of this entry

The Hour Has Come

Palm Sunday

The Hour Has Come

1. To focus our hearts
2. To fix our eyes
3. To feed our faith

Text: Hebrews 12:1-3

Intro

It’s that time of year again.  It’s hard to believe that time has flown by so quickly, but here we are once again.  It’s that time of year so sacred and so special to so many people.  Yes, it’s time for March Madness basketball.

It has been a while since I’ve competed in a game.  But I remember the feeling well, especially when I watch these young college men playing on TV.  They all have their hearts set on this one goal—winning a national championship.  But the road to the championship is not easy.  They must overcome many obstacles and distractions and win six games against the best competition in the country.  They endure a lot, all for that hope of finally being crowned champion.

Of course, for as special as this time of year is to basketball fans, this time of year is supremely more special for Christians around the globe.  Today is the beginning of Holy Week.  As we praise Jesus entering Jerusalem this morning, we know well what his end goal is—the empty tomb after his death on the cross.

This reminds us that we Christians also have an end goal in mind.  We have our hearts set on heaven.  The writer to the Hebrews reminds us this morning that the road to that goal is not easy.  There are many obstacles and distractions to overcome.  There is much to endure.  Yet the second lesson this morning lays out for us the game plan for being crowned champion forever in heaven.

Friends, The Hour Has ComeThe Hour Has Come for Jesus to accomplish his goal.  And The Hour Has Come for us to prepare diligently and deliberately for our end goal.  Now is the time.

I.

Those who have played sports before know that one of the most important things for a team is to be a focused team.  There have been plenty of talented teams in the past that have lost because there was no focus.  Some players may have wanted all the glory.  Other players may have had bad attitudes or may have gotten carried away by outside distractions.

That’s when you have what they call an “upset” in the NCAA basketball tournament.  A lower-ranked team, supposedly far less talented, beats a higher ranked team in an unexpected win.  Just this last Friday Mr. Loberger and I watched Wisconsin play a very half-hearted game in a loss to Ole Miss.  The big upset so far came from Florida Gulf Coast University who got its first tournament win ever over the far superior Georgetown University.  It takes a united team with focused hearts and minds to win a game.

The same is true for our Christian lives.  It takes focused hearts and minds to make it through this difficult life.  The writer to the Hebrews compares our lives to competition, in particular, running a race.  Here’s what he says:  “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

Have you ever seen an Olympic sprinter running the 100 meter dash with a full Nike sweat suit on?  Have you ever seen a marathon runner running a marathon in a snowsuit and parka?  That would be foolish.  No athlete competes in all those extra clothes.  They are a hindrance that slows the athlete down and might even trip up the athlete.

It’s amazing how often we run our marathon of life wearing a parka and snowsuit though!  We have so many worries in our lives.  Usually money is somehow at the center of it all.  We fill up our calendars and day planners with more things than we could ever accomplish in a day or a week.  We concern ourselves with countless little things that don’t really even matter that much in life.  These things hinder our focus on God and his Word.

Then add to that the sins that we get caught up in.  Whether it’s spiritual laziness or spiritual arrogance (that we don’t need God), or some other sinful activity in our lives—these things entangle us and trip us up.

All these extra things and sins we need to throw off and get rid of in our lives.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  Could you imagine a marathon runner sprinting as fast as he can for the first two miles?  Could you imagine a college basketball team giving up after one close tournament game they barely won?  When you are competing you need perseverance to finish your race or reach your goal.

So we are also to run this race of life with perseverance.  There are obstacles in our way like temptation and sin.  There are hurdles to get by like diseases or cancer.  There are troubles and sorrows.  But we will finish the race with patient perseverance.

How can we find such focus?  How can we throw off all these things that entangle and ensnare us?  How can we have such perseverance?  From Jesus!

The Hour Has Come this week for Jesus to show us his focus.  With determined resolution Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish his goal.  He would be tempted by Satan to take the easy way out.  He would be tempted to avoid all that suffering and death.  He would face humiliation and pain beyond comparison.  But Jesus threw off everything that hinders and avoided the sin that could have entangled him.  With patient perseverance he endured this Holy Week.  The Hour Has Come for us to watch Jesus with focused heart and mind accomplish his goal and accomplish our salvation.

So now The Hour Has Come for us in our lives to focus our hearts.  Jesus’ resolution and determination brought us forgiveness and salvation.  Jesus’ resolution and determination brought us the victory.  Now with that same focus of your hearts and minds, throw off everything that hinders your spiritual life and the sin that so easily entangles, and run the race of life with perseverance.  Find strength to do so in Jesus.

II.

“Eyes on the prize.”  Often in sports you’ll hear coaches tell their players that.  “Keep your eyes on the prize.”  Could you imagine a marathon runner who ran with his head completely sideways looking to the right?  Of course not!  He would quickly crash and fall.  Could you imagine a college basketball team popping the champagne and celebrating in the locker room after only the first game of the tournament?  Eyes on the prize!  Athletes need to fix their eyes on the finish line, on the next game at hand, on the end goal.

It’s also amazing how often we run through life looking in the wrong direction, or how often we get excited about little things that don’t really matter compared to the finish line and our end goal.  What prize do you keep your eyes on?  The next big promotion?  A better salary?  A bigger house?  Financial security?  Making it to retirement?  If you fix your eyes and your attention, your time and your effort, on only those things—how long before you crash and fall?  Maybe you already have?

In the same way, what brings you the greatest happiness in life?  Those unexpected big tax returns?  Finally getting a new car?  Much needed home improvements?  Your kid hitting a T-ball homerun?  Those things can all be great, but should our joy and celebration over those things even compare to the joy we have in Jesus and eternal life?

We hear this encouragement this morning in verse 2:  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  “Eyes on the prize.”  Fix your eyes on Jesus and heaven.

Why Jesus?  Because he is the author and perfecter of our faith.  He created faith in our hearts, he is the object of our faith, and he accomplished and perfected the goal of our faith—heaven.

The Hour Has Come for us to see Jesus fix his eyes on his end goal.  The end goal again was the empty tomb and victory over death and hell.  The end goal was the joy of giving us eternal life.  So with his eyes fixed on that joyous goal he endured the cross.  He scorned and disregarded the shame of dying on a cross and allowed that humiliation so that he could defeat Satan.  Now, having accomplished that goal, he sits at the right hand of God ruling and reigning over all things.

The Hour Has Come for us in our lives to now fix our eyes on Jesus.  Everything else in life is a distraction that takes our attention away from the person that really matters—Jesus—and the goal that really matters—heaven.  Watch Jesus this week accomplish his goal for us and find strength in him to fix your eyes on the prize.

III.

Sometimes athletes need a little encouragement along the way.  Coaches will try just about anything to encourage and inspire their players.  I’ve had past coaches post quotes on the wall, read from inspiring books, play exciting videos, bring in guest speakers (even famous athlete speakers), and more.  Athletes need this encouragement and inspiration to continue to persevere, overcome obstacles, and achieve the end goal.

It’s again amazing how often we seem to think that we can run our race and compete in this competition of life without ever receiving any encouragement or inspiration.  One of Satan’s greatest lies that he wants us to believe is that we can do it on our own.  “I’ll get through this eventually.”  “I just have to work through some things.”  “I’ll keep plugging away.  Sooner or later I’ll make it.”  But what Satan achieves through these lies is that he pulls us away from prayer, away from the Bible, away from church, and away from fellow believers.  I can’t tell you how many people I have talked to that are struggling in life with troubles or problems or sadness or unhappiness.  But I’m not at all surprised to find out that those people aren’t going to church anymore, aren’t reading the Bible, and don’t gather together with other Christians.

Like an athlete that needs encouragement and inspiration, or even like an athlete that needs water and Gatorade, we need to feed our faith.  We hear the same in verse 3 this morning:  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

The Hour Has Come for us in our lives to feed our faith.  Of all weeks, this is now the week to do so.  Walk with Jesus this week.  Join in the shouts of, “Hosanna!” as we lay palm branches at his feet.  Watch our King gather together his disciples in an upper room on Maundy Thursday and receive his true body and blood that he offers for you for the forgiveness of sins.  Follow him to the cross where he endured such opposition from sinful men.  See him writhe in agony and pain as he carries your sin and guilt.  Watch him bow his head in the death that we deserve.  Then return on Sunday and peer into the empty tomb.  See him living and victorious.  See him triumphant from the dead.  The Hour Has Come for Jesus this week, and The Hour Has Come to feed our faith by worshiping him this week.

But don’t stop there.  Don’t stop with Holy Week.  It’s always a blessing to see so many people in church this week, especially on Easter Sunday when we will likely have three times more people in church then on a regular Sunday.  But like a marathon runner running a race or a college basketball player hoping for a national championship, we need encouragement and strength more than just one week a year.  We need it every day.  The Hour Has Come.  It’s time in our lives to feed our faith regularly—every day and every Sunday.  In Jesus and in his Word we will find the encouragement and strength to make it through life and receive our goal of heaven.

Conclusion

I have to say that this is by far and away my favorite week of the entire year.  Nothing can compare to the journey we take this week as we follow Jesus into Jerusalem, to Calvary, and to the empty tomb.  But that’s because nothing can compare to what Jesus did for us during this Holy Week.  His great suffering and death forgave our sins.  His glorious resurrection guarantees us life in heaven.

The Hour Has Come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  That means The Hour Has Come for us to focus our hearts, to fix our eyes, and to feed our faith.  Do so this week.  Do so every week—until we cross the finish line and claim the prize.

 AMEN