Sermon St E Sunday 9.45 21 March 2021 5th Sunday of Lent Passiontide begins
Psalm 51v1-13 Jeremiah 31v31-34 John 12v20-3 Hebrews 5v5-10
Let us pray:- May I speak in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Have you noticed that there are certain scriptures which can be a bit of a puzzle? I am sure you have, and today we have at least three of them.
The first is when the prophet Jeremiah refers to ‘a new covenant’. Is that the new covenant we are familiar with, or does it refer to something different? The second is where the writer of the letter to the Hebrew Christians refers to Jesus having been made ‘perfect’. That raises the question, ‘was not the Son of God always perfect’? And the third is, just who was the elusive Melchizedek with which the priesthood of our Lord was compared?
So how are we to explain these texts?
Well, you all know by now that for me context is all important. Jeremiah was clearly writing about a new covenant that would be established in the future following the Hebrews return from their 70 year deportation to Babylon. Jeremiah specifically refers to this covenant as being between God and the house of Israel and Judah, so he was referring to the Jewish people, but just when in the future was that new covenant to be?
As Jeremiah specifically says that it will be a time when all of the house of Israel and Judah shall know Him, and that His laws will then be written upon their hearts, it must be speaking of a time that is still in the future, as at present the Jewish people do not yet fulfil that description.
Some suggest this is referring to us, and to the new covenant spoken of by our Lord at the last supper (Lk22v20), and by Paul in his Corinthian epistles (1Cor11v25, 2Cor3v6-7) and also by the writer of Hebrews (Heb8v8,13, 9v11,15, 12v24), but does that fit with the context?
This is a big topic, but having studied in Israel, I am not one to believe in what is called ‘replacement theology’, that the church replaces the Jewish people as ‘the new Israel’ of God and that the Old Testament promises made to Israel now apply to the Church. So to me Jeremiah’s reference is to a new covenant still to be enacted between God and the Jewish people; and the reference by Jesus and Paul, is clearly to the present new relationship that Jesus has made possible between all people who will put their faith and trust in him, following the shedding of Jesus most precious blood at Calvary.
Perhaps Jeremiah’s reference to ‘a new covenant’ is an early prophetic reference to the time Paul refers to in Romans 11 when he says of the Jewish people, ‘And this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sin’. Paul goes on to say it will be the time when ‘the fulness of the Gentiles has come in and then all Israel will be saved’. That time will be when the church is complete, and Paul says in Ephesians (3v16) that through the cross of Jesus we shall then, both Jew and Gentile, be made one. I suggest at that time there will indeed be a New Covenant that embraces both Jews, and us the Gentile church.
In the meantime for us believers, the cup of wine that we drink, is to remind us of Jesus blood of the new covenant, shed for each one of us for the forgiveness of our sin.
So what of those verses from Hebrews (5v8-9) that we have read? “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
Again very deep questions are raised here, so we can barely scratch the surface this morning. But let us look at the phrase ‘he-Jesus- learned obedience’. Throughout his earthly life I believe that Jesus was obedient to the will of his, and our God and Father. The gospels contain many references to Jesus referring to the will of his Father; in John 4 (v34) Jesus says “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work”, and later in John 5 (v30) Jesus says “I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent me”. Both these sayings show Jesus’ complete obedience to the will of God. Yet we also know that Jesus could have chosen to just follow his own human desire as we read in our gospel (Jn12v27), “Father, save me from this hour. No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.” And again Luke describes (Lk22v42) how in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from Me-nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done”.
Understandably, Jesus’ human nature longed for release from the agony of the cross that He knew lay ahead for Him, but Jesus remembered that His specific purpose for being here on earth was to go to the cross, and to show that complete obedience to the will of God the Father was indeed possible. In not giving in to that final temptation Jesus showed how He had learned obedience.
And here of course is a most profound lesson for all of us to take on board as we reflect at the start of passion-tide. Can we say that our lives have taught us to bow to, and become obedient to, the will of God? That perhaps is one of the major purposes for our earthly pilgrimage, and it is never too late for us to learn that same obedience as did our Lord and Master, and we have the promised Holy Spirit to help us.
But what then are we to make of that phrase “and having been made perfect”? I do not believe that Jesus was ever ‘not perfect’. He was the spotless lamb of God who, as a result, was the only one able to take away our sin. No, the word ‘perfect’ is to my mind perhaps better rendered as ‘complete’.
Jesus’ life of complete obedience to the will of God, showed that His life was complete; in all his ways Jesus fulfilled, completed the Torah. Remember in the sermon on the mountMatthew (5:17-18) records Jesus as saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law, the Torah, or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to complete them.”
Because Jesus accomplished all that God the Father had asked of Him, he becomes the source of eternal salvation, of eternal life, for you and for me.
But there is also that little phrase completing the sentence that needs our attention where we read, ‘eternal salvation for all who obey Him’. And that is yet another lesson for us all this passion-tide, and part of our pilgrim existence here below. As Jesus’ desire was always to ‘obey the Father’s will’, so our desire should be to learn to also obey the will of our Lord and Master Jesus. Surely that is what gives our Lenten fast its special significance.
In a lovely passage from the prophet Hosea chapter 6 (v6) we read, “For I, speaking of God, desire loyalty and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”.
From the beginning when God created human kind, He has looked for us human beings to know Him, and to walk with Him in companionship. God has only ever wanted us to be in an intimate and personal relationship with Him. But sadly we have all followed in Adam’s footsteps and disobeyed God’s commands, and so we have all became estranged from Him.
But we can now all rejoice, and even in Lent shout Alleluia, that through the obedience of Jesus to the will of God, and that did require His sacrifice at Calvary, we have the opportunity of a complete restored relationship with God through our faith in Jesus, and with it the hope of eternal life in the coming new creation.
So to our final puzzle, just who was that elusive priest Melchizedek? We first come across him as blessing the patriarch Abraham in Genesis 14(v18), then he is mentioned in psalm 110, and a number of times in Hebrews.
There in Hebrews chapter 7 (v3) we are told that this Melchizedek was a king of peace, and also a priest of the Most High God, without father or mother, and having neither beginning of days nor end of life. You can see how a clear parallel with Jesus is being drawn as the writer to Hebrews describes Melchizedek as ‘resembling the Son of God’. But just who was this elusive Melchizedek? We really do not know. My guess is that he was indeed Jesus in one of Jesus’ preincarnate manifestations, but I leave it to you to speculate, and as with all I have said this morning, to draw your own conclusions.
So what can we gain from our readings this morning especially as our period of Lent draws to its close? Perhaps as the writer of Hebrews draws our attention to how Jesus offered up prayers and supplications to God the Father, so we can be encouraged to be fervent in our prayers, and never to lose heart.
God heard Jesus’ prayers, and He will also hear ours.
Let us pray: The shorter Collect for this 5th Sunday of Lent:
Gracious Father, you gave up your Son out of love for the world:
lead us to ponder the mysteries of his passion,
that we may know eternal peace through the shedding of our Saviour’s
most precious blood, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen