The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
The Barrel - Home Page | Sermon Resources | Sermon Illustrations

Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2000-2001

He is More than Able
Hebrews 7:23-28

A strange-looking weather beaten man sat in the shadows near the wall. A tall tankard stood in front of him as he smoked a long stemmed pipe. His legs, stretched out before him, showed his high leather boots. They had seen much wear and were caked with mud. He wore a dark-green travel cloak with a hood overshadowing his face. He seldom talked to the people of the village of Bree who called him Strider. He was a Ranger, a group of men who traveled throughout Middle Earth on business unknown. Frodo Baggins had never meet Strider nor had he heard Gandalf mention his name but before morning, Frodo would have to decide if the disheveled traveler was able to guide him safely through hostile lands to the elven-city of Rivendell.1

Throughout our lives, we encounter situations in which we must assess the ability of others. A small child quickly learns if his parents are able to love him and provide the care and tenderness he needs to mature. A man and a woman must decide if the other person is able to give unselfishly in the relationship. An employer listens to the responses of a job-seeking candidate for clues that indicate his true abilities. A patient sits nervously in an examination room and wonders if the doctor will be able to diagnosis and treat his ailment. The trials of John Muhammad and Lee Malvo remind us that we depend on law enforcement agencies to be able to save us from danger. And the seeker cries out to a hidden presence in hopes of finding a greater power that is able to save her from despair.

Trusting in others is difficult. We are afraid of being let down. Even if the other person has stood with us through a previous crisis, a small element of doubt about the future lingers. And then we have those times when we wonder if we can trust God.

When your spouse makes a request, "I want a divorce."

When your supervisor says, "You're a real asset to the company and this is the hardest decision I have ever made but I forced to let you go."

When the telephone rings and the voice on the other end tells you, "Your father just had a stroke, he is alive but..."

When the doctor dispassionately says, "I think you have cancer."

Then we ask ourselves, "Where is God? If God is so powerful, if God is so caring why did he allow this to happen to me?" At those moments, we wonder if God is really able to save us?

The Hebrews were asking themselves the same questions. They had suffered several waves of persecution. They felt vulnerable and defenseless. They had even begun to loss interest in serving the God who seemed so remote. The author of this ancient sermon writes to encourage them to stand resolute in their commitment because we serve a God who is able to save completely those who come to him. The author reassures his readers of Christ's ability by reminding them of his permanence, his character, his offering, and his mission.

Earlier this month the Jewish community celebrated, Yom Kipper, the Day of Atonement. This holy day was established by Moses and recorded in Leviticus 16. Once each year the high priest was to enter the most inner sanctuary of the Temple, called the Holy of Holies, and offer a special sacrifice for the sins of the nation. While only one person could perform this sacred ritual, each priest had a limited tenure. Each priest was subject to that fate common to all humanity-death. But the author of Hebrews tells us that our high priest is permanent because he lives forever. 

The business community is discovering that a critical component to success is the leaders longevity. Great companies are almost always lead by long term leaders. Companies that circulate their leaders through a revolving door, seldom establish continuity and long-term success. The same holds true in our relationship with God. How do we know that our God is able, because of the long-term relationship we have had with him. Jeremiah tells us that he knew us in our mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5). He was with us through those early childhood years. He knows about the disappointments and heartaches we suffered. He walked with us after high school when we ignored him and all those silly rules that our parents tried to enforce. He has been with us through adulthood as we spent more time on our careers and enjoying the pleasures of our hard work. Christ knows the history of our lives because he is the one who lives forever. His permanence reminds us that he is able to save.

The Levitical code required that a priest first offer a sacrifice for his own sins before offering one for the people. He would begin by washing his hands and feet. Then he would take off his fine robes and clothe himself in spotless white linen. His attendants would bring him a bull that the priest himself had purchased. Placing his hands on the animal's head thereby transferring his sins, the priest would offer a prayer of confession:

Ah, Lord God, I have committed iniquity; I have transgressed; I have sinned, I and my house O Lord, I beseech thee, cover over the sins and transgressions which I have committed, transgressed and sinned before thee, I and my house.2

Jesus never had to offer this sacrifice because he is holy, blameless, and pure. He endured the same temptations common to all humanity but without sin. He was tempted to abandon his mission but he chose unqualified obedience. He was untouched by the presence of evil in the world. He offered no confession because no transgression had been committed. In the Levitical code, only an unblemished animal could be offered as a sacrifice. Even in his humanity, Jesus remained spotless, and unblemished.

A woman visited a plastic surgeon about her husband. She told the doctor the tragic story of his injury while attempting to save his parents from a burning house. He couldn't get to them and they both were killed. He suffered terrible burns and disfigurement. He had given up on life and gone into hiding. He would not let anyone see him - not even his wife.

The doctor assured the woman that he would be able to reconstruct her husband's face. She explained that was not her request. Her husband would not agree to the surgery. He believed that God had disfigured him for not saving his parents. She had come to ask the doctor to disfigure her face. She thought that if she could share his pain then he might allow her back into his life. While deeply moved by the woman's willingness to sacrifice her physical appearance the doctor refused her offer but gained her permission to talk to her husband. 

When the surgeon visited the couple's home, he knocked loudly on the husband's door and explained who he was and what he intended to do. The husband did not respond. The surgeon called out again but again his plea met silence. The doctor paused and then said, "Your wife wants me to disfigure her face, to make her face like yours in hope that you will let her back into your life. That's how much she loves you. That's how much she wants to help you."

After a brief pause, footsteps were heard and then the doorknob slowly turned. The husband opened the door. His wife's offering set him free from the prison of his room.3

Hebrews tells us that Jesus did not stand on the sidelines like a fanatical coach screaming at his players. He did not solemnly shake his head over the plight of our brokenness and suffering. He did not turn away and hide his eyes from the pain of human existence. 

Throughout the Scriptures the words translated "salvation" often refer to the physical reality of deliverance. They are used to describe the salvation that Israel obtains in battle, rescue from evil, or a life-threatening situation. They may also refer to the relief sought by the poor from their oppressors. In the NT, it is often used to connection with physical healing. People are saved from their blindness, paralysis, and leprosy.4 I believe this is how most of us experience "salvation." When God are faced with a crisis that is beyond our capacity to resolve, he turn to someone who is greater than ourselves. Another way that we experience salvation is through the forgiveness of sin. After we finally come to our senses and admit that we have hurt someone, we struggle to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. We are haunted by the painful memories until his loving presence comes to us and saves us from the torment of guilt and shame. In his book, The Spirit of Discipline, Dallas Willard cautions the church from limiting its concept of salvation to these physical realities. He states that Jesus not only wants to save us from the consequences of sin but also to liberate us from its enslaving grip on us in the hear and now. By his death, Jesus sought to rescue humanity from the tormenting influence of evil by transforming us into new creatures.5

Few astrophysicists did more to popularize stargazing than Carl Sagan. He was a classical, "show me" scientist. Unless a concept, idea, or thought could be proven through established scientific inquiry, he would not accept the possibility of it being true. However, during the last year of his life he had to depend on the presence of something intangible and unprovalbe-the love of his family. Yet, even that love could not convince him of an eternal love. After he died, his widow reflected on their life together, "we were wonderfully happy for over 20 years together but for Carl, there was no doubt that when we said goodbye it was for all eternity."6

Hebrews tells us that we serve a God who is more than able to save both in the here and now and for eternity but the choice is still ours. 

1 J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings, Collector's Edition, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), 168,169.

2 The Letter to the Hebrews. Edited by Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975 Electronic version, Logos Software.

3 Maxie Dunnam, This Is Christianity, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 60-61.

4 Werner Foerster, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. Edited by Kittel, Gerhard, Geoffrey William Bromiley, and Gerhard Friedrich, Vol. 7:965-1024. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-c1976.

5 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of Discipline, 36.

6 "A 24-7-365" God" Online:, October 22, 2003

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Crossroads Presbyterian Church
1445 Welch Rd
Walled Lake MI 48390