Judica, the Fifth Sunday in Lent: Christ as our High Priest Makes Atonement for Sin

Lessons: Genesis 22:1-14, Hebrews 9:11-15, John 8:42-59
Hymns: LSB 440, 420, 430, 429, 422, 433

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      Our world is thoroughly corrupt from sin. There is pain, suffering, and death. There is crime, abuse, and violence. There is discrimination, hatred, and division. There are wars, oppression, and revenge. There are neglected children, broken homes, and dysfunctional families. There is gossip, adultery, and theft. There is disease, addiction, and cancer. There is false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. It’s all because of sin.

      This world will never provide lasting relief, peace, comfort, or happiness. No matter how much money, pleasure, or comfort one has, he still cannot be freed from the effects of sin. You can be comfortable, happy, and have a great time but you still have no relief from sin. You can build walls to give yourself security—be it money, family, or even weapons—but you still have no relief from sin.

      You can offer blood sacrifices to God, bribe Him with offerings and good works—even the wealth of the entire world, and do more good works than the Apostles—but even that would not be enough for God to be pleased with you so that He would take your sin away.

      Why? Because you remain a sinner.

      And when you sin, who do you sin against?

      Yourself? Probably. Your neighbor? Sometimes. God? Always! Every time you transgress the Ten Commandments—every time you go against God’s Laws—every time you fail to do what is right, you have sinned against God.

      Even though you may think your sin is small, it must be measured up against the holiness of God. Your sin is against God Almighty. When you consider this, you will see how serious your sin is, how offensive it is to God (who is perfect), and you will realize that your sin results in death and earns condemnation.

      So, you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Now what? What can you do to make amends for your sin?  What can you do so that God will erase His memory of all that you have done amiss? What can you do so that God would be pleased with you, a sinner?

      The answer is sobering. You cannot do anything.

      In fact, no man, no beast, no earthly item can extinguish your guilt and reconcile yourself to God. For reconciliation with God is impossible if you cannot perfectly fulfill the Law of God.  

      And that brings us to a big problem. We cannot perfectly fulfill the Law, for we have already transgressed the Law. No matter how hard we try, we will fail. For we have inherited sin from our parents—we have inherited the sin of Adam. This means there’s no avoiding sin.

      Wishing our sin away won’t make it go away. Claiming innocence when we are not innocent is deceit. In fact, claiming innocence is chalking up yet another sin.

      There’s no way we can achieve perfection in this sinful world. And we cannot become good enough for God so that He will accept us based on our own merits.

      God works in absolutes. We cannot turn this reality into gray obscurities and presume God will somehow let most people off the hook. God hates sin. His wrath demonstrates it.

      God is just. His justice must prevail. This means God does not ignore sin in order to give everyone a free pass to Heaven. Instead, God demands atonement for sin. There must be reconciliation for your sin. You must be justified.

      And this you cannot do, for your sin has already disqualified you.

      But there is One who could. In fact, there is only One Person who could perfectly fulfill the Law. There is only One Man who could redeem your soul. There is only One Man who could pay the price for your salvation. He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was made Man. He became our Substitute, perfectly keeping the Law in our place. As we heard in Hebrews, He is the Mediator of a new covenant.

      His life was given as a ransom for yours, as we confess in the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, also true Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, and lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.”

      The priestly work of Christ is to offer up a sacrifice that would redeem you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. His sacrifice must be acceptable to God or else you would have no hope of salvation. The sacrifice Christ our High Priest offers is not with the blood of goats and calves or the ashes of a heifer. His sacrifice is not the offering of gold or silver. Instead, the sacrifice of Christ is His own Blood, which was shed in your place on the cross at Calvary.

      The idea of ransom payments, the shedding of blood, and atonement for sin is a bit foreign to modern thinking. In fact, many churches have stopped focusing on Christ crucified and risen for the forgiveness of sins because they think we now live in an age that is beyond that way of thought. But yet, that is the only way we can be reconciled to God.

      Many think they can assuage God’s wrath through good behavior. But even in the Old Testament, it never worked that way. In those days, the people were instructed to follow the Ceremonial Law, with all its regulations, sacrifices, circumcision, and prohibitions of food. The people did these things, not to gain God’s favor, but because they believed in God. When a person believes in God, he wants to do as God commands.

      That’s how Abraham lived. In faith, he took his son up on mountain to offer him as a sacrifice. He believed God would restore his son. It is written in Genesis 15:6, Abraham “believed the Lord and it was counted to [God] as righteousness.” You see, salvation in the Old Testament era was only granted by grace through faith. They trusted in the coming Christ, who offered Himself as the Sacrifice for all sin. Salvation in our day comes about exactly in the same way—by trusting in Christ, who was offered as the Sacrifice for all sin.

      Just as Abraham believed and so he followed God’s Word, so also as believers we follow God’s commands. We listen to His instruction and follow it. Christians delight in the Law of God. Christians delight in good works. Christians desire to walk in the ways of God—not to gain God’s favor, but because we’ve already been received into His favor by grace through faith. It’s an expression of gratitude.

      In the Old Testament, priests offered sacrifices. Priests served as the mediator between God and man. People brought their sacrifices to the Lord. A priest received the sacrifice and offered it to God on the altar. When the priest accepted the sacrifice, this indicated God was accepting the one who offered the sacrifice. This did not mean those who brought their sacrifices were earning their salvation. Instead, it shows they believed in the promise of God. They lived their faith. In faith, they gave their offerings and did as God commanded.

      Today, we don’t bring animal and grain offerings to the Lord. Those offerings pointed the people ahead to the great High Priest who would give Himself as the offering for sin—once for all. Christ is our High Priest. He serves as your Mediator who now gives you access to your Father in Heaven.

      And because Jesus rose victoriously from the dead, He has secured your eternal life. You are declared righteous through Christ. The guilt of your sin is gone. The punishment for your sin is paid. There’s no wrath against you. Christ Jesus our Lord has atoned for all those things I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon that demonstrate the fallenness of ourselves and the world around us.

      Because redemption is necessary, the Father sent His Son to be offered as the perfect sacrifice. He gave His own life. His blood was shed so you will not die to eternal death. He redeemed you from sin since the guilt of your sin was placed on Him. Jesus was held accountable for all your sin. Every sin you committed was placed on Christ, so that it appeared to God that Christ sinned against God, not you. The Father saw Jesus as THE sinner. And He was punished for it. He died, shedding His innocent blood in your place.

      Therefore, repent of your sin, and cling to the High Priest. For Christ always stands as your Advocate. He is the Mediator of the new covenant. He has cleansed your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. He has obtained for you eternal redemption. He has set you free from sin, death, and the power of the devil. He has granted you forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. He did it all—for you—so that you can be brought into the green pastures of Paradise.

      Abraham knew he would receive his son back after sacrificing him. For he believed in the Resurrection. But God stopped Abraham from slaying Isaac. And God provided for them substitute, a ram caught in a thicket by his horns. This ram was then offered up on the altar for a sacrifice. This substitute prefigured Jesus who would shed His innocent Blood in our place as our Substitute. Jesus served as our High Priest and offered the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

      This means our sins are truly forgiven, eternal life is ours, we have obtained God’s favor, and faith is accounted to us as righteousness. We can live in the same confidence as Abraham, for God truly keeps His Word, cherishes our lives, loves us beyond measure, and brings us to be with Him in Heaven. Thanks be to God. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen