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"Once And For All"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 18, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Anthony (Tony) Cook, Guest Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Once And for All)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Hebrews 10:11-19

I'm one of those people that has a hard time taking vacations. Now, it's not that I don't enjoy rest and relaxation like anybody else; it's that, I really, really love the work. You see, each and every day, I have the privilege of going to work at Lutheran Hour Ministries. It's an organization dedicated to bringing Christ to the nations and the nations to the church. This means that each and every day I have the opportunity to either proclaim the Gospel or equip others to do the same. To be honest, I can't think of anything I rather do. The simple, singular focus of Gospel proclamation over the years has become my personal passion, and it's my passion for what I do that's most likely the reason I have 46 unused vacation days. But with that said, I must admit, everyone needs a break. Everyone needs time to cease their labors and to rest from the endless tasks that make up our daily lives.

Now before you think I am a workaholic, a few months ago, I did take the opportunity to step away and take a rest. My wife Elizabeth and I decided to go to somewhere we had never visited before. We decided to go to the Dominican Republic.

And I must say, it was a wonderful, relaxing place to be, at least for some. For it didn't take long to realize that in order for the tourists to rest, a lot of other people had to work and work they did. There were people everywhere, people checking you in, people carrying your bags, people cooking your food, people providing entertainment, as well as a number of surprising and seemingly endless tasks, which leads me to one of my favorite stories from the trip: the story of the old men and their rakes.

First thing we did after checking in to our rooms was to find two umbrella-covered chairs on the beach. I love to sit on the beach and simply read a book and watch the sea as it rolls in and rolls out over the white sands. I really can't think of anything that's more relaxing to do, and I must admit it was a truly beautiful view. But as I watched, I noticed something odd: there was an old man with a rake, walking up and down the beach in an endless loop. As he raked, I could see that he was creating these large alien-looking piles of brown plants that were washing up on the shore out of the sea. And once these piles grew large enough, another group of old men armed with their rakes emerged from the side. They took these large piles and they scooped them up, put them in a wheelbarrow, and carted them off. Over and over again, the process continued. While I can imagine that the old men grew tired, the sea did not. As soon as the material was raked and placed into the wheelbarrows, more would accumulate, time after time again, in an endless process.

After watching the old men in their ceaseless dance by the sea, I finally asked a gentleman next to me what they were doing. He explained that the ongoing problem they were facing was called the "bloom." You see, the bloom apparently is a large growth of seaweed that has suddenly gotten out of control. Like the changing of the seasons, the bloom has become a predicable event--an event unfortunately that kills sea life, chokes beaches, and signifies that something deeper and darker is wrong with the sea.

I then realized why the old men with rakes were on their endless loop, why they were participating in this seemingly futile endeavor, why they were endlessly standing by the sea. It was because they had a temporary solution for an ongoing problem.

Now, I must admit, I am not a stranger to temporary solutions to ongoing problems. I've have held a few proverbial rakes in my hands over the years. A case of motor oil in the trunk of my 1975 Buick Century with the leaky engine: a rake. Buying a constant supply of pain-relieving gel for a tooth with a bad nerve: another rake. Paying half my bills every other month, in order to afford groceries: another rake.

There are two things that tie all three of these examples together. The first is that they are actual events that occurred in my 20s while I was a broke college student living in Chicago, but that's another sermon. The second, and the one that's important for today, they are all temporary solutions for ongoing problems. It just seemed easier to keep a case of motor oil in my trunk instead of finding the money to fix the leaky engine. The same with the tooth with the bad nerve, and paying half my bills every other month, well, that's really what it is to be broke and young. But none of these solutions could go on forever. None of these rakes would last.

The old men with rakes that I told you about remind me of more than my attempt to survive my 20s. They remind me of the priests spoken about in the book of Hebrews and referenced in our text for today. These priests are like the men on the shore; they're faced with a similar overwhelming situation. They too have an ongoing problem for which they only had a temporary solution--a problem not with seaweed, but a problem with sin.

Hebrews 10:1-4 says: "For since the Law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? But in these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

Like the rakes of old men, the sacrifices of the priests were only a temporary solution for the ever-accumulating pile of sin and the resulting separation from God. They simply couldn't rake fast enough. Like the old men their service was endless.

Hebrews 9:9 and 10:11 say, "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins." and "According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper." Every single day, the same thing: sin, sacrifice, repeat. And no matter how hard they tried, the people's conscience would never be clean.

A new solution was necessary: a solution that was perfect, a solution that was sufficient, a solution that was permanent--one that would allow the priests to lay down their tools, finally ending their endless labor. But this, my friends, would take a new and different kind of priest.

For the priests who had come before were many in number. Each one closing his eyes in death, prevented from continuing his office, leaving a beach full of sins with an endless number more crashing in on the shore. And when a priest died, another priest would simply take his place, pick up his rake, and continue until his death. But because of God's grace, there would come another Priest: a powerful and perfect Priest--One who would not need to offer a sacrifice for His own sins, One who would never need to be replaced. And this new and greater High Priest is Jesus, for Jesus lives forever. And because Jesus lives, He can make the continual intercessions between God and God's people; Jesus possesses an eternal priestly office. As the result, He is unlike all other priests that have come before Him. For Jesus has the ability to perfect all who call on His Name, all who draw near to God.

"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a High Priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the Law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever" (Hebrews 7:23-28).

The One who is perfect is also the One who can make us perfect as well. He has the power to bring us to completion, to bring us to the fullness of who we were created to be by God. "But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second (Hebrews 8:6-7).

"But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified" (Hebrews 10:12-14). Jesus gave Himself for you. Jesus gave Himself for all. And as a result, the rakes stopped raking, and the old men could find their chairs and Christ His throne to sit and watch the endless sea. Once and for all, the deed was finally done in Christ.

And as a result of Jesus' perfect solution, we have confidence. We have confidence in Jesus that we too can lay down our rakes. That we no longer need to be worried about the sin in our lives that crashes against the shore, attempting to clean it up ourselves and make the beaches of our lives pristine. No, Jesus has done what we could never do. Our new great High Priest no longer stands offering temporary solutions for ongoing problems, but now Jesus sits triumphant, work completed, rakes at rest--a new path to God revealed.

Jesus opened a new way, not through the sacrificial bodies of bulls and goats, but through a living curtain that is His very body that has been offered for us on the cross. Jesus' body is that torn curtain in the new temple through which you and I have permanent access to God. Sin removed, separation overcome.

For Jesus "does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all" (Hebrews 10:9b-10).

So, friends, we now can draw near to God. Everything that has separated us from Him in the past is gone in Jesus, and we are beckoned by this passage to do just that: to draw near to God with a true heart, with hope and assurance of faith that comes in Jesus, for we have been sprinkled and cleansed not by the blood of animals but by the very blood of the Son of God. Our hearts have been made clean. They have been purified from an evil conscience, and our bodies have been washed pure by the baptismal waters of Christ.

So I call out to you today to hold fast--to hold fast during those days when we feel like we stand by the sea and our sins continue to crash in. I call to you to hold fast when you're overwhelmed by despair, and you feel that you simply can't rake one more time. I call to you when you feel that you have done too much to be loved by God and to enter into His kingdom, and to hold fast to the confession of hope, a confession of hope without wavering. For He who is promised is faithful. Jesus is Someone in whom we can have faith, in whom we can rely, in whom is perfected, and His promises fulfilled.

And let us consider how we can encourage one another, how we can help one another in these times in which we are overcome, how we can spur one another on to love and to good works, how we can gather together, not neglecting one another in meeting together but instead gathering in the presence of God, encouraging one another as we wait for that Day to finally appear.

And on that day, we will see Jesus--the permanent solution for our ongoing problem. In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Reflections for November 18, 2018

Title: Once and For All

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and we just heard Rev. Dr. Tony Cook with a message titled "Once and for All." I'm Mark Eischer here in the studio with Dr. Cook and joining us is Dr. Michael Zeigler, Speaker of The Lutheran Hour.

Mike Zeigler: Thanks, Mark. Tony, thank you for your message. That image of the sea constantly coming in, that was such a powerful image for sin. I had memories of when I was a kid making sand castles and the ocean always coming in and knocking them down and never being able to do anything permanent, and then you added to that this image of the out-of-control bloom. How would you say that image of sin either expands or contradicts the way that people normally tend to think about sin in our culture?

Tony Cook: Yeah. That's a good question. I think for me, personally, when I was younger, I thought of sin as more of a one-to-one comparison, so I would do something wrong and then I would need to get forgiveness for that one thing, and I think when you think about one bad act, then needing forgiveness, that it feels much more manageable than that illustration does.

The thing I like about that illustration is the relentless nature of sin coming in on the shore. You're not quite sure why it's happening, because they don't quite know where the large blooms continually come from, and so there's this underlying problem that we don't know what's producing this continual onslaught of seaweed that's coming up on the shore. And for me when I think about sin, like that seaweed, it shows me that it's not a manageable one-for-one event, but it's something that's endless and overwhelming.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah. Whenever I'm around the sea, what it does to my emotional perspective, I feel small, and I think that ... you left me with that feeling small in comparison to my sin.

Tony Cook: Yeah. Well, when you saw the gentleman on the beach, that was the thing that really struck me because you spent a lot of time just staring out at the ocean, and there's this little older gentleman, like I said, with a rake, that's just kind of walking along, and it takes him a half hour to walk along the property's edge in one big circle, and the poor guy ... I mean, the moment he's gone and taken a few steps, it washes more in, and so that little elderly gentleman compared to that huge coastline and the huge sea that's behind it, it really is a striking and overwhelming example of what sin really is.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, the overwhelming nature of sin. And then to that, you gave us the permanent solution, Jesus, His once-and-for-all sacrifice, and I'm sure many of us can come up with examples or proof, so to speak, that it's really not a permanent solution, we still have sin that we're struggling with. In your experience, what helps us live in that reality of the permanent solution?

Tony Cook: I think there's a difference between a permanent solution and the ongoing impact of what was occurring before the solution was implemented, or even after it was. So, say for example, my wife, a couple years ago, had a hip replacement, and she went in for a fairly permanent solution and had a new hip, a metal hip in place but, the moment she got it, it didn't mean her problems were immediately over. There were a number of months of recovery and pain and ongoing trauma that was related to it. Or, like in this example, when you think about the bloom, if they figure out exactly why it has grown out of control and tomorrow could stop it, there would still be the ongoing impact of that in, literally, in the world. So for sin, I mean, we have a permanent solution for the separation that that sin created between God and His people, but that doesn't mean the ongoing impact of that sin is over immediately as well. So I think for me it's the difference between finding the solution and looking forward in hope and faith to that day when the impact will finally end.

Mike Zeigler: One of the phrases that has helped me understand Scripture is that: "already but not yet," and I think that's at play in this conversation that we're having. You even see it in the text, so there's the permanent complete solution, but then Hebrews 10:13 is this image of Jesus also waiting for His enemies to be put under His feet, so part of that ongoing problem that the work of God still applies in our lives is the guilt that we feel, the accusations of the enemy, the trouble that the enemy makes that, as you said, we are still looking forward and still clinging to God's work in our life.

Tony Cook: That's right and that's why we move toward faith and having full assurance and trust. So for me, I always like to think of faith as trust. So while we know what Jesus has done, there still is that trust as we move forward that it will finally come to completion, and the enemies will be under His feet, and the new heaven and earth will be created through Him, and everything else that we hear when Jesus returns--that that will become a reality as well. His track record is pretty good, Jesus is a pretty reliable guy. Relying on Him is probably the best place to put our money.

Mike Zeigler: Yeah, as I read the Scriptures, you almost get the sense that God intentionally delays, at times, the fulfillment of His promise to strengthen our faith, to let us wait on Him.

Tony Cook: What I normally think of is that God is delaying, if you can even fathom why God would do something ... because He's so much bigger than we are ... but that God delays for the sake of the Gospel, and so that He wants His children to know who He is, who they are, and what He's done through Jesus. But while we're waiting, we still suffer these impacts. And He is the greatest steward; God does not allow anything to go to waste, even our suffering, and so He uses that, as you were saying, to strengthen and refine us, that our faith might become stronger. And each and every time we think that, hey, I think I'm pretty good now, I'm healthy, I can pick up my rake and I can probably make a dent in this, sin and suffering remind us, no, you're just a little tiny guy on the beach, and throws us back on trust and faith in Jesus.

Mike Zeigler: If someone wanted to share this resource, as I say, as a podcast, your message, with a friend who has drifted from the church or doesn't know Jesus, what do you hope they would get out of hearing this message?

Tony Cook: I think for me the part that's really kind of speaking to my heart is the message that there is hope for the endless overwhelming impact of sin. I've definitely experienced times where I've been overwhelmed. I've been overwhelmed by anxiety. I've been overwhelmed with guilt. I've been overwhelmed with disappointment. What I need is a reminder that all of those things, those things that I am guilty for, those things that I can't bear to even think about, that in Jesus, He has looked squarely at them, He's taken control of the situation, and He has provided a solution for that deepest thing. Because while we think, "Well, I said a bad word." "I spoke harshly." "I lied to someone"--these are all kind of surface sins, but if I'm real with myself, there is a much much deeper foreboding darkness that is in me. It's something that I actually need assurance that there is a solution for. So I would say that if I were going to share that message with someone, I would probably share it with someone who was experiencing being overwhelmed, and the anxiety--the kind of crushing anxiety--that life can bring.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"The Day Is Surely Drawing Near" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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