The Full Assurance Of Hope: Christ As Priest

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It might seem strange and even offensive to us as modern readers, but the people of the Old Testament worshiped, praised, and received from the Lord God through a sacrificial system.  Yes, as we page through the Old Testament we see these somewhat foreign practices, practices such as: burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, guilt offerings, and so forth.  All of these strange rituals were basically the sacrifices and offerings of: bulls, goats, sheep, turtledoves, flour with olive oil, grains, and even pigeons.
But more specifically, what were these sacrifices and offerings like?
Imagine the combination of a church, a slaughterhouse, and an open-air kitchen with a butcher slash pastor working in the midst.[1]  This very interesting combination was not a creative arrangement for a reality television show, but the way that the Lord had orchestrated to slaughter animals and prepare them as food for the people while worship happened.  Truly, these rituals took place in the midst of the people of Israel and were conducted by priests.  That is how it was in the Old Testament times, especially as we see it in the book of Leviticus. 
By the way of example, during the Old Testament times, people would bring an animal, such as a bull, sheep, or goat, and the animal would stand calmly before the priest, that is until the priest would place his hands upon the animal confessing the sins of the people upon the animal.  After the sins were transferred upon the animal through confession, the priest would nimbly swing the blade through the animal, thus killing it on behalf and for the people’s sins.  Surely, the innocent animal was killed in the place of another and the blood of the animal interceded life for the guilty. 
Keep in mind that these sacrifices were not to be food of God and they were not some sort of gift given to God to woo Him—to make Him dance—but rather it was a sacrifice that visibly demonstrated that sin was and is serious business.  The sacrifice showed how sin was placed on an innocent and clean animal—an animal that would die in the place of sinful people.  It was a life given into death for the sake of making payment for sin.
All that being said, in most cases, the animal that was sacrificed was actually prepared and given to the people for meals, much like a modern day congregational barbeque.   
Now, the reason why we are contemplating this tonight is that we are focusing on the role of the Old Testament priest.  The Old Testament priest was a prominent role in the Old Testament because priests functioned as a representative of the people when they offered gifts of sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people in relation to God.  Priests, like Aaron, continually offered up goats as a substitute, so that through these means the forgiveness of sins could be distributed to the people.
That’s right; through the sacrifices the Lord did deliver relief to the Old Testament people.  Their sins were forgiven on the basis of God’s Word attached to these Old Testament sacrifices, sacrifices that functioned like sacraments.  These sacrifices not only showed how a sinful people could approach a holy God, but as previously mentioned they were a way that the Lord expiated the sin of the people; they were the way that the Lord delivered the people relief and absolution for their sins.
So, why do we not continue to have these same Old Testament sacrifices today?  Should we do a remodel of our sanctuary to add a kitchen next to the altar?  Where do we put the butcher block; shall we move the pulpit?  Do I as a pastor need to go to butchery school or hone in my meat skills from when I worked at the Walmart Meat Department?  Do you need to start raising bulls, goats, and sheep in your back yards for the weekly sacrifice?  Blessed Saints, no, we do not for our Epistle reading supplies us a different response. 
In our reading we hear that Jesus is our high priest.  Yes, we hear that Jesus acts on behalf of mankind—on behalf of you—just like the high priest Aaron did for the people of Israel.  However, as we heard in our Epistle reading Jesus is no ordinary high priest.  He is greater than the priests of Old Testament, for He does not offer up sacrifices over and over and over on your behalf, but rather offers up only one perfect and one complete sacrifice for the sins of the world.  What was that one, perfect, complete, and supernatural sacrifice?  Was it some super bull or some super sheep?  No, it was not.  That one supernatural-incredible-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole entire world was Himself.  Indeed, He offered and shed not the blood of bulls and goats, a sacrifice that would happen over and over, but He offered Himself once and for all.  The reason why the blood of Christ is sufficient and exceeds the blood of bulls and goats and sheep in the Old Testament is that Christ’s blood has immeasurable redeeming value—not due the amount, but due to its distinctive characteristics of being shed by the Son of God.[2] 
In a word, the sacrificial system of the Old Testament not only pointed forward to the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but also delivered to the people of the Old Testament what Christ would soon accomplish for them as the true Lamb of God.
Furthermore, the reason why Jesus is so much more than the Old Testament priests is that the priests of the Old Testament were sinners who had to offer sacrifices not only for the people that they served, but also for themselves as well.  Thus, the Old Testament priests were not the savior but rather they were the ones who needed a savior like those they served.[3]  They needed Jesus.
Like a funnel, the Old Testament sacrifices in the scriptures lead us to Mount Calvary where ultimate blood was sacrificed; blood that poured from Jesus’ cross; blood from God’s Lamb who took all of the sins of the world. 
Hear the good news.  He bled, died, and made payment for—for you.
Dear friends, you do not need a priest to offer up sacrifices every single year on your behalf, for your great priest Jesus Christ offered Himself up once and for all—for you. 
Fear not, your sins have been purged, washed, and cleansed by Christ, the Lamb of God. 
You have a sole priest who reconciles you by His own body and blood; Christ’s shed blood—on your behalf.    
Surely, satisfaction for all of your sins was accomplished by your High Priest who was the sacrifice.   He now continually applies the benefits of this sacrifice to you in Holy Baptism, in His Holy Supper, and in His word.
Merciful Jesus, thank you for being my high priest and my sacrifice, for in you I have complete and total forgiveness of all my sins. Amen. 
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our prophet, priest, and king. Amen.

[1] The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 170. 
[2] Jack Kilcrease, The Self-Donation of God: A contemporary Lutheran Approach to Christ and His Benefits (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2013), 87.
[3] Ibid, 90.

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