Two major themes are running through the readings for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. The first weaves together the widow who gave out of her poverty in Mark 12 and the story of the widow of Zarephath from 1 Kings 17, who also gave to the prophet everything she had. Both texts reflect Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount: “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30; Luke 12:28) The widows are for us a great example, so we too would trust in God’s provision of body and soul and, more importantly, hold fast to His promise of life in the face of death and in His riches in spite of our poverty. The Gospel, you may have noticed, is rather loosely linked between the wickedness of pretentious scribes and the humble widow (Dr. Nafzger will no doubt help us see a more coherent connection). Certainly, a treatment of pride and humility would be in order. However, the second theme comes by way of the Epistle from Hebrews 9:24-28 which is about the temple made without hands.
It seems the lectionary committee got a bit overzealous here in wanting to remind preachers of the temple setting of Mark 12. It was perhaps hoped that in their preparation, preachers would be electrified by the subtle, yet altogether brilliant theological connection between the earthly temple and the temple made without hands, namely, the heavenly Jerusalem. Fair enough. Let’s give it a go, but know that if you are preaching from Hebrews, you are doing it because it is one of the most beautiful passages in all of Scripture and not because you have a real hook with the other readings.
First, preachers should study the very rich vocabulary of chapter 9 as a whole. Take time during the week to work through verse by verse in your Greek. Do some lexicon work and, if you have the resources, check the vocabulary against the LXX. The movement of the text is from the Old Testament rites of Israel under the first covenant (δικαιώματα λατρείας in 9:1) and God’s mercy toward Israel “until” in verse 9 the time of Reformation (μέχρι καιροῦ διορθώσεως—if you did not mention that on Reformation Day, now is the time). Christ has come as the reality of former shadows, as the true High Priest of all that God has promised His people, to enter the temple not made with human hands and not of this world, with His own blood to purify our consciences from dead works to serve as priests before the living God (9:14). Be sure to notice how specific the writer is about the details of the temple and its worship. It reminds me of St. Bernard and Paul Gerhardt’s hymn, “O Sacred Head Now Wounded,” as the church meditatively thinks on the members of Christ’s body that were wounded for our transgression. The meditative exercise of recounting in vivid details the body of the crucified Christ for our salvation draws the viewer in, so that they themselves are standing at the foot of the cross. The author of Hebrews does something similar here with the temple. He inspects the ornamentation; the golden vessels and the lamp stands. He sees the table and the bread of presence. He dares to walks behind the second veil into the Holy of Holies. He sees the ark and the cherubim shadowing the mercy seat of God. He opens it and finds Aaron’s staff, the manna and the tables of the covenant. We should see how closely the Hebrews inspected these Holy Things and how much God wanted them to treasure the vessels by which He made Himself available for them. The comparison, however, is from the lesser to the greater. Even with all the majesty of the old covenant, it is a mere shadow compared to the reality in Christ.
Preachers should be aware that Hebrews 9:15-22, the verses just before our text, were critical for Luther’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper and the Words of Institution as Christ’s Last Will and Testament. It is not a covenant in the sense of a new chance with God, which requires sacrifices to restore the covenant. It is God’s Will that goes into effect upon death. Now, when the Testament is read in the midst of His people, “Take eat…Take drink,” God gives us what He promised; the inheritance of salvation in His own body and blood.
In our preaching of 9:24-28, we should magnify the priestly office of Christ, especially His completion of our salvation. His death, resurrection, and ascension have done it. Although most Christians are not thinking of the earthly temple and animal sacrifices as a viable way to be propitiated to God, they are nevertheless drawn into the old life and old covenant. They measure themselves by the Law, fear death, and await judgment (9:27). Look how the writer divides the old life and its ceaseless works from the new, where all is accomplished in Christ: νυνὶ δὲ ἅπαξ ἐπὶ συντελείᾳ τῶν αἰώνων εἰς ἀθέτησιν [τῆς] ἁμαρτίας διὰ τῆς θυσίας αὐτοῦ πεφανέρωται (9:26). The end of the old age has come. God has done, once and for all, something totally new (again that νυνὶ ) through His sacrifice.
Finally, then, in 9:27-28, the text shifts to the eschaton, when Christ will return, and all those who wait to see Him in this second coming will view Him in salvation, not judgment. The ESV tries to explain in what manner Christ will return, but in verse 28 it is not the point that He is coming back to not deal with sin. The focus here is on Christ coming back, so to speak, to appear to those who have waited for Him because that appearing means their salvation. He is coming to take us home to Himself. The church year is coming to its goal, the consummation of all things. μαράναθᾶ!
Concordia Theology: Multiple resources for preaching Hebrews 9:24-28.