Fourth Sunday in Advent – Epistle

by Crossings

What Pleases GOD
Hebrews 10:5-10
Fourth Sunday in Advent
Analysis by Cathy Lessmann

Hebrews 10:5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” 8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10 And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

DIAGNOSIS: The Old Covenant

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Desperately Trying To Please God
According to the old covenant (the law), to be “right” or “pleasing” to God (forgiven of sins) required sacrifices and burnt offerings. “Under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). However, as the Letter to the Hebrews indicates, the problem with that old covenant is that sacrifices have to be repeated over and over again; they are never sufficient to permanently “make perfect those who approach” God (10:1). Although today we don’t literally sacrifice animal bodies, we are equally caught up in our own sacrificial practices, and they are just as repetitive-just as desperate. We work hard-use our bodies-to become good, or acceptable, or successful, or rich. We pride ourselves in the accomplishments we’ve earned through our “blood, sweat and tears,” and we expect reward for them. But when we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that our frenzied efforts are “killing us.” (This becomes particularly evident when our body parts start to fail us.) We feel particularly uneasy when we realize that because we can never be certain how much is enough, that we must keep knocking ourselves out (killing ourselves) over and over. Desperate, we push ourselves (our bodies) harder and harder.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Wrong Assumptions about God’s Will
We have assumed that God “desires” and “takes pleasure” in our sacrifices. We assume that God is pleased with what we can do for God. We assume that the law, or the “old covenant,” is God’s preferred way to interact with people-that it expresses God’s will for humanity. But could it be that these assumptions are based on our own preferences? Deep down, don’t we love that old covenant-and express our love with our bodies?

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Desperate (God Is Not Pleased)
The Letter to the Hebrews bluntly judges such bodily busyness: “The law…can never… make perfect those who approach…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (10:1, 4). It might also have added that the same goes for our blood, sweat and tears. Lest there be any mistake, it adds, the law is “weak and ineffectual” (7:19). “Sacrifices and offerings you [God] have not desired … in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure” (10:5-6). Our assumptions are all wrong, which makes our plight not only desperate but deadly. We have not pleased God. We are not saved by our bodily actions. There is no “eternal inheritance” for us. Without God we are no-bodies.

PROGNOSIS: The New Covenant

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Jesus Pleases God
In this week’s Gospel (Luke 1:39-55) Elizabeth has a strong inkling of the glorious secret about to be revealed when she rejoice over “the fruit” of Mary’s womb. That inkling is confirmed when the angels sing it out loud and clear on Christmas morning. The secret, which is for all the world to know, is that God’s greatest pleasure is Jesus, who obeys his Father’s by becoming a human being-bearing sin on his body – in order to save no-bodies. Jesus says, “A body you [God] have prepared for me” (v. 5), and “See, God, I have come to do your will” (v. 7). Christmas (the Incarnation) proclaims that God’s will is to be Triune so that God can rescue good-as-dead no-bodies and make them Some-bodies. The high cost of this accomplishment is the sacrifice of Jesus’ own body on the cross. His body becomes the sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to the Father. Jesus, as our high priest (7:27-28), offers his body on our behalf. He “entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (9:12) and thus gives us access to “the throne of grace” (4:16).

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Appropriating God’s Will
Jesus’ obedient sacrifice (not ours) pleases God and every-body and any-body who trusts in his sacrifice becomes equally pleasing to the Father. All who trust that Jesus “is able for all time to save those who approach God through him” (7:25) can drop the old, “killing” assumptions (the old covenant) and adopt the new (grace) covenant, which declares: “I will be their God and they shall be my people” (8:10). If we ever had any doubt about God’s will, this epistle lesson banishes it: “It is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (v. 10).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Basking in God’s Pleasure
“Once for all.” Those clear words bring instant relief to our desperate and repetitious, self- sacrificing attempts at pleasing God. In fact, that relief what Elizabeth meant when she called Mary “blessed” (Luke 1:45). In Jesus we are confident that we are pleasing to God. We spend our time “worshiping the living God” (9:14) with (of all the ironies) our bodies! But this time our self-giving is done to love God and serve the neighbor. Our sacrifices are no longer desperate. Rather they are filled with calm thanksgiving and characterized by great joy that, like Mary’s joy, overflows into song. This is our Christmas joy.


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