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Lessons in the Lutheran Confessions
Concerning the Mass part 42

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Hebrews 4:14–16

From the Confessions: The Defense of the Augsburg Confession

Concerning the Mass 

They also quote from the Epistle to the Hebrews. “For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins” (Heb 5:1). They conclude from this verse that, since there are high priests and priests in the New Testament, there must also be a sacrifice for sins. This argument makes an impression on the unlearned, especially when priestly pomp and sacrifices of the Old Testament are spread before the eyes. The resemblance deceives them, so that they think a ceremonial sacrifice for sins ought to exist among us just as in the Old Testament. The services of the Mass and the rest of the papal organization are only false zeal stemming from a poor interpretation of the Levitical order.

Pulling It Together

Jesus Christ is the only high priest able to stand between you and God. As such, he is called our “great high priest” by the writer of Hebrews. Because Jesus is our high priest, we are able to make the good confession. That confession is that he is the Christ, the one whose sacrifice has made the difference. So long as we maintain that it is our sacrifices—our good works and ceremonies—that earn us favor with God, we will fall into despair. For how can we be good enough, do enough, confess every last sin? We cannot; nor would it make a difference since we are born in sin.

In order to set the record straight and to soothe our troubled consciences, this section in Hebrews shows us that we no longer need high priests. It does not demonstrate the further need for them, but establishes Christ Jesus as our great high priest. He is the one, as Hebrews goes on to confirm (Heb 10:14), who has made the one, perfect sacrifice needed to perfect “those who are being sanctified.” We are being sanctified by him, not by our own doing. Knowing this to be true, how could we ever rely upon our own sacrifices, or for that matter, those performed by priests “chosen from among men” (Heb 5:1)? Because of our confession of Christ alone, we may draw near to God with full confidence in his mercy toward sinners like us.

Prayer: Forgive me, God, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

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