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October 29, 2017

Paraphrased Sermon of Martin Luther (1483-1546)  for October 29, 2017

In Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation

“Christ, Our Great High Priest” Hebrews 9:11-15

As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant reformation, my thanks to Shirley Patton for presenting a very special version of “As it Was.” Regarding today’s sermon- It was preached in the 1520’s to a very different world. For example, church and government were tied to one another. There was great power in the church, which was quite connected to the state, which in turn held great power over the populace. There was no separation of church and state yet, which in time became a rallying point for the reformation. In addition, you will hear about something Luther mentions- the “ban”, also known as excommunication. Uncomfortable for us to even consider in the modern church today, this was an institutional act of religious censure used to deprive, suspend, or limit membership in a church or to restrict certain rights within it, in particular, receiving of communion and baptism.

Excommunication may have involved banishmentshunning, and shaming, depending on the sin that caused excommunication which was confessed to a priest or found out in some way. The grave act was often revoked in response to sincere penance, which was manifested through public recantation before church leadership, as well as sometimes through the Sacrament of Confession, and in grave circumstances, mortification of the flesh- whippings, etc.!

Luther spends a lot of time on the idea of forgiveness available through Jesus Christ, the great high priest in heaven. Seeking forgiveness back then was a very important part of the faith, especially in light of the possibility of being excommunicated from one’s church. Also, there was a lot of emphasis given from the priesthood that without forgiveness from sin, one would never enter heaven. Many Christians worried constantly over the eternal state of their soul and whether or not there were sins in need of forgiving which might keep them from heaven.

You will notice in this sermon that Luther also emphasizes that forgiveness of sins comes through Christ alone, and that works, or penance, has nothing to do with forgiveness- this notion in part is what got him excommunicated from the priesthood in 1521. Pope Leo and others believed in acts of penance in order to find forgiveness for any sin. So, once your sin was confessed to a priest, you would be assigned certain charitable acts to perform in order to be forgiven for your confessed sins. For Luther and other reformers, it was grace alone, (sola gratia) and faith alone (sola fide) through Christ which is given freely which enables us to be freed from our sins. No works of our own enable us to be forgiven- only through God’s grace.

So try to transport yourself back to Wittenberg, Germany in the 1500’s in a cold and drafty church, complete with pigeons roosting above your heads, worrying constantly if your sins were forgiven or still hanging over your head, following a rebel minister who has been excommunicated for his teachings on faith and forgiveness which were in opposition to the church, and whose hymns are being sung by his followers in the streets. Luther’s topic is on Christ, our high Priest in heaven.



“Before we can make this text clear to ourselves, we need to understand the full letter to the Hebrews. Briefly, the letter speaks of a twofold priesthood. The former priesthood was a material one, with material adornments, tabernacle, and sacrifices with pardon for sin couched in ritual. The new order is a spiritual priesthood, with spiritual adornments, spiritual tabernacle, and sacrifices-spiritual in all that pertains to it. Christ, in the exercise of his priestly office in the sacrifice on the cross, was not adorned with silk and gold and precious stones, but with divine love, wisdom, patience, obedience and all virtues. His adornment was apparent to none but God, for it was spiritual.


Christ sacrificed not goats nor calves nor birds; not bread; not blood nor flesh, as did Aaron and his descendants: he offered His own body and blood, and the manner of his sacrifice was spiritual; for it took place through the Holy Spirit. Though the body and blood of Christ were visible the same as any other material object, the fact that he offered them as a sacrifice was not apparent. Christ offered himself in the heart before God. His sacrifice was not perceptible to any mortal. Therefore, his bodily flesh and blood become a spiritual sacrifice. Similarly, we Christians, the descendants of Christ our high priest, offer up our own bodies. And our offering is also a spiritual sacrifice, or as Paul puts it, “our spiritual act of worship,”(Romans 12:1) for we make it in spirit, and that sacrifice is seen by God alone.


So, in the new order the tabernacle is spiritual; for it is heaven, or the presence of God. Christ hung upon a cross; he was not offered up in a temple. He was offered before the eyes of God, and there he still abides.

The cross is an altar in a spiritual sense. Although it was visible in a material sense, none knew it as Christ’s altar. His prayer, his sprinkled blood, his burnt incense were all spiritual, for it was all made through his spirit.

Accordingly, the forgiveness of our sins and our justification (being blameless in God’s sight) are likewise spiritual. In the old covenant, the priest with his sacrifices and sprinklings of blood gave one only external pardon. The recipient was permitted to move publicly among the people; he was externally holy and therefore restored from excommunication. He who failed to obtain absolution from the priest was unholy, being denied membership in the congregation and enjoyment of its privileges. In all respects, he was separated like those in the ban today.

However, such absolution rendered no one inwardly holy and just before God. Something more was needed to secure true forgiveness. With the Priesthood of Christ is true spiritual forgiveness, and absolution. Christ’s blood has obtained pardon for us forever acceptable to God. God will forgive our sins for the sake of that blood so long as its power will stand and its intercession for grace on our behalf, which is forever. Therefore, we are forever holy and blessed before God. This is the substance of the book itself; now onto the test for today.

Verse 11 says, “But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,”. Aaron and his descendants obtained for the people merely a formal remission of sins in the temple. It was evident that the people’s absolution of sin before the congregation was a temporal blessing confined to the present. But when Christ came upon the cross, no one beheld him as he went before God in the Holy Spirit, adorned with every grace and virtue, a true High Priest. The blessings provided by him are not merely temporal, not merely a formal pardon, but are the good things that have come-that is blessings which are spiritual and eternal. They are as yet hidden, to be fully revealed at a future life in eternity.

Continuing in v. 11, “then through the greater and more perfect tent(Not made with hands, that is not of this creation)”This tent or tabernacle exists only in the sight of God, and is ours in faith, to be revealed in the hereafter. The old tabernacle was made of wood and other temporal materials which were created by God and assembled by man. But this greater tabernacle has no form yet; it is not yet completed. God is building it and shall reveal it.

v. 12, “he entered into it…taking not the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood instead, thus securing eternal redemption.” According to Leviticus 16, the high priest must once a year enter into the holy place with the blood of rams and other offerings, and with these make formal reconciliation for the people. This was but temporary and imperfect atonement; it did not eternal suffice as does the atonement of Christ. For though we sin repeatedly, we have confidence that the blood of Christ does not fail; it remains steadfast before God, and the atonement is forever and eternal. Under its sway, grace is perpetually renewed, without work or merit on our part, provided we do not stand aloof in unbelief.

V. 14, “For the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer, etc. According to Paul, these were formal and temporal purifications, as I stated above. But Christ, in God’s sight, purifies us from sins meriting death, and or works performed in sin and therefore dead. Christ purifies us from these that we may serve the living God by living works.

v.15, “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant”. Under the old law, sin and transgression remained, burdening the conscience. It did not benefit the soul at all, inasmuch as God did not institute it to purify and safeguard our conscience. It existed merely for the purpose of outward discipline, restraint, and correction. Yet now Christ is our mediator through his blood; by it, our conscience is freed from sin in the sight of God, because God promises the Spirit through the blood of Christ. Only those called to be heirs of the eternal receive the Spirit.

We find then in this excellent lesson, the comforting doctrine taught that Christ is he whom we should know as the High Priest and Bishop of our souls; that no sin is forgiven, nor the Holy spirit given by reason of works or merit on our part, but alone through the blood of Christ.”

Closing prayer written by Luther: Behold, Lord, An empty vessel that needs to be filled.
My Lord, fill it. I am weak in faith; Strengthen
thou me. I am cold in love; Warm me and make me fervent that my love may go out to my neighbor. I do not have a strong and firm faith; At times I doubt and am unable to trust thee altogether. O Lord, help me.
Strengthen my faith and trust in thee. In
, I have sealed the treasures of all I have. I am poor; Thou art rich and didst come to be merciful to the poor. I am a sinner; Thou art upright. With me there is an abundance of sin; in thee is the fullness of righteousness. Therefore, I will remain with thee of who I can receive but to whom I may not give. Amen.

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