Fifth Sunday in Lent
Good Friday, An Eternal Sacrifice For You
What happens if you transgress against an agreement made? What if, in some way, you break the terms of a contract? What if you break a law?
With most agreements or contracts, there is some way to make things right again. If you break your agreement with your phone company by failing to pay the bill on time, paying a late fee or a re-connect fee is the way of making things right again. If you rented a movie from Blockbuster (remember those days?) and transgressed against the return date, you paid a late fee to be in good standing once again.
When you transgress, there is a way to make things right – maybe a fine, maybe a fee. Even if you transgress against the government or the IRS a ticket or a fine (or some time in jail) will make things right between you and them once again.
Sometimes the ways of making things right again are more merciful, sometimes less merciful. But once things are made right, it lifts a burden off the conscience.
God’s Old Testament agreement with His people had ways of making things right again when they transgressed the agreement – when they sinned. For a time, God had a tent set up – a tabernacle – and then God had the Temple built. These were places where sacrifices were offered.
This tabernacle and this temple were earthly images of a future heavenly reality. In the tabernacle or temple, the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies – an earthly place that represented God’s place in heaven. The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with blood – the blood of a lamb or bull or goat – and offer it as sacrifice for his sins and for the sins of the people of God. The sacrifice offered was the way for making things right again between the people and God.
This offering of sacrifice in that tent on earth went on perpetually, because the sacrifice was always insufficient. The blood of lambs and bulls was insufficient payment to atone for human sin.
The sacrifices offered were indeed the people-of-God’s God-given way of making things right when they had transgressed, but, nevertheless, they could never truly cancel guilt and could never truly give relief to the conscience. [Hebrews 9:9] “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.”
Insufficient payment for sin is like minimum payments on a credit card or student loan. You pay forever, yet the balance never seems get any smaller. And if God’s established ways of dealing with sin in His Old Covenant were insufficient to take away sin, then how insufficient must it be when we devise our own ways of dealing with our guilty conscience? What are the many ways that we try to ease our own conscience when we’ve transgressed? But God has now provided a better way.
“When Christ appeared as a High Priest …. then through the greater and more perfect tent …. He entered once for all into the holy places – the true, heavenly Holy Place - not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
His is a redemption that pays in full, through His blood.
“For if the blood of goats and bulls …. sanctify for the purification of the flesh – for sacrifices did have some benefit – then how much more will the blood of Christ …. purify our conscience.” The blood of Christ is a payment that has paid in full. Only the blood of Christ can free the guilty conscience. You are set right again with God by the payment of His sacrifice.
Those works of the Old Testament which could not fully help the guilty conscience are called “dead works” in our scripture reading. So, human traditions meant to heal the conscience are also certainly “dead works”. And our own self-devised ways of dealing with our guilt are certainly unhelpful, damaging, and are symptoms of a misdirected faith.
What are the ways you deal with guilt on your conscience when you’ve transgressed in some way? It’s something we might not notice, but our conscience does come up with its own set of ways of dealing with guilt and its debt of sin.
You’ve done wrong to so-and-so; so you avoid so-and-so at all costs. You said something harsh or nasty to someone – so now you’ll say nothing to them forever to avoid them. Your conscience avoids every remembrance of past sin so it doesn’t have to feel the sting.
The cashier gave you too much change; you kept it. So you never shop their again. Due to the burden of guilt, you can’t face the responsibility. There are a hundred similar circumstances. We’ve sinned; we try the “just don’t think about it” method. We’ve sinned; we go around and around and around and around in our minds trying to convince ourselves we didn’t.
You suffer a deep burden of guilt, a lingering sting in your conscience, or you have a very sensitive conscience. So you drink. Or you spend countless hours on Netflix. Or you work every bit of overtime. You occupy all your time so you don’t have to face it.
Whatever it may be, the conscience has its own self-devised ways of dealing with our sin-brokenness. But, again, if even God’s prescribed works of the Old Testament could not heal the conscience, then how much more must our own methods to cancel guilt fall short.
Jesus Christ, offered on Good Friday in His own self-offering as the Lamb of God, is the eternal sacrifice – the sacrifice that is sufficient forever – once and for all. Turn to Jesus Christ when you’ve transgressed. What He did on the cross for you on Good Friday is the way of making things right again.
Through His eternal sacrifice your sin is forgiven. His wounds are the healing for your conscience. He was stricken, smitten, and afflicted for your transgressions. On Him was laid the punishment that gave the guilty peace. In His eternal sacrifice, all sin is atoned for. The guilty conscience finds healing in Him. His sacrifice on Good Friday paid the entire debt forever.
Christ’s sacrifice, however, isn’t something to just reason through and know about. It is something to receive. The eternal sacrifice of Jesus made on Good Friday is received today through His Word preached and through His Sacraments given. Jesus, as High Priest and as Lamb-offered, gave His body and blood as payment in heaven. And He gives that very body and blood here to be received.
What will take care of the guilty conscience is given here, in concrete ways, through the listening ear, on the baptized head, and upon the receiving tongue. What Jesus gives you here frees the conscience – frees the conscience from having to free itself – and makes things right forever between the guilty man or woman and God. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, His Son, our High Priest and our Sacrifice-offered. Amen.