The Fifth Sunday in Lent - March 26, 2023
[Hebrews 9:11-15] But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.
“Once for All”
“Time heals all wounds.” Oh, it does, does it? Tell that to your aching back! Does time heal all wounds? Time doesn’t do it.
How many retirees still have a click in their knee or a pain in their shoulder because of that one time they did that foolish thing when they were a young man? Your back started aching when you first started lifting the kids. And it still hasn’t stopped.
And, when time does bring healing, some scars are big enough that they remain for life. The healed wound or healed incision leaves its mark.
Now think about this: What about the wounded conscience of a man or woman? Does time heal all those wounds? Or is the conscience still aching, stinging, or scarred these many years later? Time may alleviate the hurt, but it doesn’t fully heal or take away the lasting mark.
What is a wounded conscience? You know what it is. Just like the injury or surgery that leaves pain in the body for decades to come, that sin you committed - that serious wrong you did (known or unknown) - the way you were back then - those words you spoke - that immoral thing you did - or unethical thing you did - or the mark or stigma you acquired because of your or another’s actions… Sin wounds the conscience.
And you find mere time hasn’t healed the wound. A year ago or many decades ago, guilt and shame have great longevity.
What do you do about it? Keep hoping it goes away. Keep hiding. A wounded conscience thinks, “My church family won’t forgive and forget. I can’t admit it.” Keep holding back from being involved or serving - in God’s Church - or in general life. You’re unworthy, so keep staying back.
And be afraid. Fear. Fear that one day those sins will catch up with you. Fear past wrongs. The wounded conscience still believes the consequences are about to crash down on you, even today. Fear that those people are still secretly mad at you.
What else do you do about it? Dead works. “Dead works” include those attempts to keep trying to make up for it - to keep trying to atone for wrongs. “Someday I’ll do this good thing or that good thing - or improve myself in this and that way - I’ll finally really dedicate myself - then that fear or shame in my conscience will finally be alleviated.” But it won’t; and you won’t.
Those are dead works. Those kind of good works are like the home remedies a person finds on the internet for all the diseases they think they have. None of it really works; and usually your diagnosis is a bit off as well.
A wounded conscience. Even a sin that was in secret makes you walk around feeling like you’re on a stage - all eyes on you, waiting to shame you. And, since you know damning-sin is sin in thought, word, and deed, you think everyone else in the room only ever sinned in thought - you’re the one and only one who has ever done such deeds.
Or a wounded conscience, healed, but with a visible scar. Known failures and wrongs that carry a stigma - like divorce - or a criminal record - or time in rehab for addiction. Everyone’s glad you’re doing better, but your conscience thinks they’re only seeing that big old scar and not looking at you yourself.
What can be done? The old covenant - the Old Testament - was a covenant of Law. “Do this” and you will be saved. Don’t do all that is commanded in the Law, and you are under the curse [Galatians 3:10-13]. You and your conscience. A covenant of Law says, “Do this”, but it never all gets done.
Under the old covenant of Law, there was therefore always a remembrance of sins. The sacrifices of that covenant - the offerings of calves and goats and lambs - being sprinkled with their blood or with “the ashes of a heifer” - could never truly take away sins.
And, though not all lived under this old covenant of Law per se, all people do live under God’s Law and are left to all their feeble attempts of sacrifice, atonement, and self-improvement that they can possibly invent. Like with the Old Testament, you’re never done.
“What can be done?” No. “What has been done?”
“But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent… He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
“Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant… since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”
This is what has been done. Jesus has paid the price “once for all”. One death for all. Your sin on Him. He hung naked before God and man wearing your sin. He paid. The full consequences - to the very last drop - fell on Him. Your sin is forgiven. That sin from back then is done. Forgiven. The Son of God died for it already. Long ago. “It is finished.”
By means of His own blood, Jesus has, once for all, secured an eternal redemption - a forever atonement - a permanent pardon and deliverance from your sins committed under God’s Law. As unfair and unbelievable as it may seem to your human flesh and mind, you are forgiven. And so is your brother or sister here.
Believe it. Don’t believe the ranting of your human conscience. Believe God’s Word which says you are forgiven - “For the death He died He died to sin, once for all” [Romans 6:10]. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1]. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” [1 Peter 3:18]. Christ, once for all.
In this New Testament - this new and superior covenant - in which you live through faith in Jesus, God Himself no longer lives with a remembrance of your sins - “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”[Hebrews 10:17; Hebrews 8:12; Jeremiah 31:34].
In this New Testament there is now only a remembrance of His mercy - the remembrance of the body of Christ given and the blood of Christ shed - remembered before our eyes in His Supper in our midst. Received and believed together.
By Christ’s once and for all death on the cross, you really are forgiven and set free - from real sins; He died for real sins - so that, as the Apostle Paul said of himself, “forgetting what lies behind” you are free to “strain forward to what lies ahead.” [Philippians 3:13-14]
Time doesn’t heal all wounds. But by His wounds you are healed [Isaiah 53:5]. In heaven, your noisy conscience will be quiet once and forever. For now, live in peace by faith, believing in the “once for all” Gospel of God’s Son. Amen.