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More Thanksgiving Leftovers for Christmas

December 20, 2006

Sometimes when I pray before meals I will recite Matthew 4:4 “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” so that we are reminded to pray and give thanks for our spiritual food, as well as our physical food.  So I often think of sermon preparation as preparing a meal for you from the Word of God.  And this year for our spiritual Christmas dinner I’ve decided to serve leftovers from thanksgiving.  We’re in the middle of a six week sermon series on thanksgiving, and the text I’ve chosen this morning is Heb 13:15, Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

If the University of Illinois were opening up a new department, they might put it’s departmental headquarters in some renovated house over on third and John with a gravel parking lot and you would know by this that they considered this department peripheral.  But if they were to build a new building in the middle of the quad to house this department, you would take notice, and you would know that the University regarded this new department as one of central importance.   Similarly, the old adage says that if you want to open us a small shop, the three most important things to consider are location, location, location.  You want to pick a spot where you will be noticed.  Why am I telling you this?  Because I want you to see that this morning’s text is strategically located in the Bible so that you will notice its crucial importance.

The book of Hebrews is a tremendously important book.  Or course, all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable, but I believe that there are two books that demand the most study and most richly reward extra study:  Romans and Hebrews.   I think that a good understanding of Romans and Hebrews will provide about 90% of the undergirding structure of theology.  The rest of the Bible fleshes out that skeleton and adds detail and color, but if you want structure, if you want backbone, study Romans and Hebrews.   And our verse this morning is the climactic concluding application of the whole book of Hebrews.  This verse is a big deal in this book, which means that thanksgiving is a big deal in the Christian life.  Now in order to show you the connection between this verse and the overall theme of the book, let’s focus in on this first phrase… 

I. The Sacrifice of Praise

Sacrifices are mentioned throughout the book of Hebrews because the purpose of the book is to explain to us why we no longer need animal sacrifices and the old Levitical priesthood described in the Old Testament law.  And the reason is this and I offer this as a one sentence summary of Hebrews.  Because we have in Jesus Christ a great high priest who on the cross offered himself as the final once for all sacrifice for sins, we no longer need any other sacrifice, we no longer need any other priest.  All we need to draw near to God is faith in Jesus Christ.

Now if that is the theme of the book of Hebrews, then do you see how important it is that in the concluding application the author calls us to offer no longer sacrifices of atonement, Jesus has done that once for all, but now we are to offer the sacrifice of praise.  One commentator calls this the book’s crowning description of Christianity: the sacrifice of praise.

What’s the difference between sacrifices of praise and sacrifices of atonement?  A sacrifice of atonement would be something that you would offer to cover your sins, to get right with God.  A sacrifice of praise is just thanksgiving for the fact that you have been made right with God by the once for all totally sufficient sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.    So now I ask you, which kind of sacrifice are you making to God?  Are you still despising the once for all sacrifice of Christ by trying to make sacrifices of atonement to get right with God?  When you do an act of kindness for a family in distress, are you doing it to offset your other sins in the hope of appeasing God?  When you read your Bible, do you do it with delight and thanksgiving or do you do it because you feel so bad that you’ve neglected it for so long and you’ve been wallowing in worldliness and now you want to salve your conscience and make it up to the Lord by reading your Bible?  If that is what you are doing, you need to know that that is not Christianity.   

Christianity is the sacrifice of praise.  When you draw near to God you are not trying to atone for sin, but you are coming saying “Thank you, thank you that you have already covered all my sins.  Thank you that you sent your Son Jesus into the world to die on the cross in my place to be the once for all atoning sacrifice for my sins.  And now I pray that you would open my eyes as I read your Word, I just want to know you more so that I can praise you more.  This is all I want to do with the rest of my life, to praise you and glorify you my Savior.  You are my Savior!  I am saved!  Thank you for my salvation!”  That’s Christianity.  That’s the sacrifice of praise.  Now if you are looking at Hebrews 13:15, you may have noticed that the next verse mentions other sacrifices,  

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

and you might be tempted to think that these sacrifices are something different than thanksgiving.  That these are works that we do in order to make it right with God.  But in fact these works are nothing but dead works without faith and thanksgiving.  I get that from looking at this word “pleased” with such sacrifices God is pleased, and I ask “what makes them pleasing to God?”  The Pharisees gave to charity and God wasn’t pleased with that, so what makes our works pleasing to God?

Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him

Hebrews 12:28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship

Gratitude is a response to grace.  It must come from a heart that already trusts the grace of God for salvation, otherwise our works are not pleasing.  And notice the order.  15 b4 16.  worship before service, wonder b4 works.  Works without wonder leads to weariness.  The most important issue in your life is wonder.  Without wonder, delight in God, works are dead.  Your goal when you read your Bible should be to cultivate an awe of God.  

Now some people when they hear this good news that salvation is to be had by faith alone in Jesus Christ, that our works contribute nothing to our salvation, they object that this is too easy.  They call it an easy believism.  But in fact, it is not easy to believe this.  It is very hard for us to believe this, isn’t it?  We desperately feel the need to do something ourselves to atone for our sins and it is very hard to lay this down and just trust Christ to save us.


 

Why are we so addicted to trying to atone for our sins ourselves?  Because we feel guilty. And the reason we feel guilty is that we’re guilty.  But what are we going to do about our guilt?  There’s only two options.  We can try to atone for it ourselves with our own dead works, or we can trust Christ for forgiveness.  How blessed is he whose sins are forgiven!  How blessed is he whose transgressions are covered!   That’s the blessing we need and there’s only one way to get it.  Here’s how Hebrews describes it in 9:13-14, comparing the sacrifice of Christ to the sacrifices in the Old Testament. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who have been defiled sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we may worship the living God?

 A defiled conscience keeps you from worshipping God. It is of paramount importance that we learn how to deal with a defiled conscience, and the answer of Christianity is faith in the blood of Jesus.  That’s it.  Nothing else will do.  Nothing can for sin atone, nothing but the blood of Jesus.  Naught of works that I have done, nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Sing that song with joy and thanksgiving, that’s the sacrifice of praise.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Egana permalink
    December 20, 2006 4:58 pm

    I have not been very involved in the blog-o-rama these days… But on a whim I came to visit the puking dog this afternoon, and am so amazed that you are serving heaping helpings of seriously delicious food here… yum yum yummmy!

    One thing that has helped me, as you continue to pound this life-giving truth into our brains, is to remember that not only am I guiltless before God in Christ, but I am also under his protection. I am his servant, and under his authority. So if someone else thinks I should be different or do things other than what my Lord directs, I am not obligated to appease them… I rest under the authority of my master, who bought me and continues to clean my conscience from dead works.

    So much (I am ashamed to say) of my “Christian service” to God has recently been revealed to me as trying to please others and gain their approval. I am a recovering approval addict, I guess. The Lord for several months now has been leading me away from my current “ministries” and in some different directions, and it has been so difficult for me to accept his leadership, becasue I fear the censure of others. (actually, there is no censure, I merely fear it as the man in proverbs fears the lion in the streets…) So, I find it is easier to rest in my salvation before God than it is for me to risk disagreement and disapproval from my brothers and sisters in Christ.

    So I find great comfort in his ownership of me. His blood continues to cleanse me of the dead works I frantically pursue to gain the approval of others. To rest in His approval is all in all, and continues to change me so I may worship and obey only my living God! tAnd guess what? Then I am freed to serve and love others instead of perform for them and beg their approval. I am so full in Christ, that I find I do not need the approval of others… or at least, I am being weaned from it by the power of his blood and the good food of the word you serve up each week.

    So, my dear pastor and friend, I give thanks to God for your continued obedience to His calling to to preach and teach with all authority, as you continue to shepherd this flock into the Kingdom of God. Know that he is using you mightily, and that me and mine are so blessed by his ministrations through you. May He continue to bless you and keep you close to Him in everything you do, so that you will adorn His Gospel, to His glory and our GREAT BENEFIT!

    Egana (who is coming out of a fog, and finding the radiance of God is the best medicine for a heavy, fearful heart)

  2. December 21, 2006 8:21 am

    I guess that makes two of us “recovering approval addicts,” Egana! :D Although… I don’t know how well my “recovery” is going. I am a bit afraid I’ve gone too far to the other extreme now, and find myself rejecting other people before they can reject me (and trust me, I can come up with about a bajillion reasosn why Person X wouldn’t like me or want to be around me…). Got any good solutions for that, o wise Egana? I’m just hoping eventually the pendulum will swing back and forth a little bit, and eventually I’ll be “normal.” Hah! ;)

  3. Egana permalink
    December 21, 2006 5:23 pm

    Well, this might be better in person, but the closer and more happy I am in Christ, the less psycho-needy I am of the approval of others.

    So my quick (yet true and powerful) answer is take all that energy that you put in to getting your needs met from others… take all that energy and time adn effort and thought, all those habits adn thoughts and ways of acting, and use it to pursue the Lord Jesus instead. Think about Him. Memorize His words. Talk to Him. Read about Him. Talk to others about Him. Worship Him as you walk His creation. Worship Him as you use the ears He made to listen to music and human voices and narutal sounds… The more “Christ-besotted” you can make yourself, the happier and fuller you will feel.

    Then you will ahve lots and lots of love to give to others, instead of needing so much from them instead. At least, that is how I am. You may be similar… *grin*

    We can talk about it more sometime in person….

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