After Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, the Jewish leadership had decided it was better for the people if Jesus was dead. They said, “If we let Jesus go on like this, everyone will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:48). “So from that day on they plotted to kill him” (John 11:53).
Oh, they were out for Jesus’ blood! And soon they would have their wish. Soon, Jesus would be before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, who would convict and sentence Him to death. And so Jesus’ blood would be shed.
Like the first victim of murder, Abel, Jesus would also die as an innocent victim. But unlike Abel, who was sinful and just a human, Jesus was sinless and more than a human–He was also God. That’s why Jesus’ blood “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” As our sermon hymn put it: “Abel’s blood for vengeance pleaded to the skies; but the blood of Jesus for our pardon cries” (LSB 433:4).
Abel’s blood spoke from the ground to heaven, crying out for retribution. Jesus’ blood also speaks, but His precious blood cries–not to heaven–but from heaven! His blood proclaims, not retribution and revenge, but pardon and forgiveness of sins. And it is through His blood, and His blood alone, that we have access to God.
The Book of Hebrews tells us about this access. Through Jesus’ blood, we have access to where the worship of God is taking place in heaven. Hebrews says that when we gather to worship, we “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem.” Is that true? Oh, yes! Although our mortal eyes cannot see it, we are worshiping with the saints and angels in heaven, who are in “the heavenly Jerusalem.”
The Old Testament Temple was atop Mount Zion. And what was remarkable about the Temple? That was where God located His presence for His people. Of that Temple, God told King Solomon: “I have consecrated this Temple that you have built by placing my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there” (1 Kings 9:3).
And so the Temple is the place of God’s presence, even today. For God said that He would place His name there forever. But that puts us in a bind, for the Old Testament Temple is no more.
But we are only in a bind until we realize that even the Old Testament Temple pointed forward to a future fulfillment in Jesus. In John chapter 2, Jesus spoke about how the Temple would be destroyed and that, in three days, it would be rebuilt. When Jesus said that, He wasn’t talking about the Temple of stone and mortar but the Temple of His own flesh and blood. And it is through that flesh-and-blood Temple of Jesus where we find God’s presence for us today.
In the Old Covenant, God’s people went to the stone-and-mortar Temple to be in the presence of God. Today, in the New Covenant, we go to the flesh-and-blood Temple of Jesus. Where we get Jesus’ flesh and blood, there we find God’s presence!
When we gather in worship, an extraordinary event takes place: heaven intersects with earth. This intersection of eternity and time, of infinity and our assembly, happens because we “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem.” Although we are here, we are also there. We are in God’s presence.
That’s why we sing the song of angels in our Lord’s Supper liturgy. We sing, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of thy glory” (LSB 195). That’s the song Isaiah heard the angels singing when God had given him a vision of the heavenly Temple (Isaiah 6:1-7). And since we join with the angels in their worship of God, we join them in their singing.
But Jesus’ blood does more than join us with heaven in their worship of God. Jesus’ blood also makes us one with all believers in Him. How can that not be if all true believers are part of this heavenly assembly? Hebrews says that we have been brought into “the assembly of the Firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” The Firstborn refers to Jesus. St. Luke lets us know that when, writing about Jesus’ birth, he literally wrote that Mary “gave birth to her son, the Firstborn” (Luke 2:7).
In other words, we have been brought into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Now this Church is hidden to the human eye, but not to the Lord. For the Lord knows who belongs to Him.
That is why God still calls Christians to assemble. For the Holy Spirit has joined us to our Lord by faith, which also makes us members of one another. Being joined to Jesus Christ, we are one Church because there is only one Lord. That’s also why the book of Hebrews tells us not to neglect the assembling of ourselves together (10:25). To avoid joining in worship is to be something other than who we are!
The blood of Jesus gives us access to God, who is the Judge of all. On the Last Day, all people will stand before the Judge of all. No one will be able to hide any secrets from Him. And He will pronounce judgment on all–and it will either be a verdict of condemnation or acquittal.
Even you will not escape God’s judgment. Some Christians think that God will not judge them. But that’s not true. As a Christian you, will be judged. The only difference is that you will be found “Not Guilty” because of Jesus.
Think about absolution, when I as your pastor speak God’s Word of forgiveness to you. I do that because Jesus told the Church’s first pastors, His Apostles: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven” (John 20:23). But what does that mean? It means that every time you hear the word of absolution, you are hearing God’s verdict on you ahead of time!
The book of Hebrews also tells us is that those who have died in the faith are mentors to us. After all, we are with “the righteous, who have been made perfect.”
Hebrews chapter 11 lists some of the saints who have gone before us. It starts with Abel in Genesis (Hebrews 11:4). Later, it even tells us of those who refused to recant their faith as described in the Old Testament Apocrypha book of 2nd Maccabees (Hebrews 11:35). They stood firm in the faith because they looked forward to the resurrection of the body on the Last Day (2 Maccabees 7:1,13-14).
Our Lutheran Confessions remind us to give thanks to God for the saints who have gone before us. Through them, we can learn about how God made His grace known to them in their lives. From them, we can see examples of how to live out the faith in many, different circumstances. Even today, they are our teachers in the faith and role models for the life of good works.
The book of Hebrews calls Jesus “the Mediator of the new covenant.” It is as the Apostle Paul wrote to the young Pastor Timothy: “There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind–the man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). A mediator is a go-between. Jesus is the One who brings us into the presence of His Father. He has taken our sin into Himself, and in place of our sin, He gives us His perfect righteousness. That enables us to stand before God, pure and faultless.
Indeed, Jesus’ blood is “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). That’s why Jesus shed His blood for us on the cross–to give to us the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ blood can do that. For when He shed His blood, it was not only the blood of a man, but also the blood of God.
Did you notice that Hebrews speaks in the present tense when it mentions the sprinkled blood? Now why would the book of Hebrews do that? After all, Jesus’ shedding His blood for us happened in the past. Here’s why: Although Jesus’ blood was shed on the cross in the past, it is now given and applied to us in the present.
That’s why the book of Hebrews can speak about Jesus’ blood being applied to us in the present tense. For it is. But instead of the blood being sprinkled on us, as in the Old Covenant, we receive it in the Supper.
Yes, Jesus’ blood still speaks, for you today, in the present tense! And it speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. The blood of Jesus Christ speaks the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. That’s what Jesus gives you in His Supper.
You don’t need to go up to the earthly city of Jerusalem to eat and drink in God’s presence. Instead, whenever we gather to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we enter the heavenly Jerusalem to feast there in the presence of God, the saints, and the angels. On this side of heaven, it doesn’t get any better than that. Amen.