4th Midweek Lent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, our lives are full of different transactions, aren’t they? I mean, every time we shop at the store there’s a transaction- you give the store a certain amount of money and you get to take home whatever it is that they are selling. There’s a transaction that takes place. Or, maybe you help a friend out in exchange for them helping you when you need it. There’s a transaction. If someone commits a crime, they owe a debt to society and in exchange for the damage they have done they either have to pay a fine or spend some time in jail. There’s a transaction. Our sense of justice and fairness insists that there is an equal contribution by both parties in every transaction. Perhaps that is somewhat similar to what happened in the OT times. When you sinned a transaction had to take place. You offended against God and in payment a sacrifice had to be made, something had to be given, something had to be laid on the altar. The high priest was the one who performed such a sacrifice.
During our midweek services we’ve been looking at Jesus as our great High Priest, He’s our perfect High Priest, our Compassionate High Priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses. But…where’s the lamb? Where’s the offering? If Jesus is truly our great High Priest, he needed something to offer to God to make the transaction for our sin complete. What is it that Jesus offered to God as our High Priest?
Perhaps it’s somewhat surprising to read that God did not desire sacrifices and offerings and that God was not pleased with burnt and sin offerings. Didn’t God command them? Weren’t there many of them? Someone has calculated that there were about 1,200 public sacrifices in Israel every year! Every day two lambs were sacrificed, one in the morning and one in the evening, every Sabbath there were four, on the first day of the month there was a sacrifice of two bulls, a ram, seven male lambs, and a male goat, in addition there were special sacrifices for festival days, there was almost a river of blood coming down from the altar and mountains of animal carcasses in front of the temple.
But why? What was the point of these sacrifices? First, it was a regular reminder of the people’s sins, it was a constant silent sermon that the “wages of sin is death.” Sin earns death. But, it was also a reminder of God’s grace. The people didn’t die, a substitute died in their place. All these sacrifices meant to point ahead to the perfect substitute God would provide to atone for the sins of the world.
But over time, many in Israel lost the connection of the sacrifices to the coming Savior. They failed to see their sin and the need for a Savior. And they actually turned these sacrifices into things they could do to earn God’s favor. They thought that as they brought these animals that they were actually doing such a good work that God would be pleased with them for doing it. And so, their sacrifices became worthless in God’s sight, meaningless. That’s why God says, “sacrifice and offering you did not desire.”
We, too, need to be reminded of that. No sacrifice or offering that we could make can buy God’s forgiveness or bring peace to a troubled heart. We see that in Judas. Remember that after he betrayed Jesus he was seized with remorse. He felt bad and his conscience tormented him. So what did he do? He may have wept bitter tears, but that didn’t give him peace. He rushed into the temple and threw the bag of coins back, but that brought him no peace. He couldn’t do anything in order to get peace. The same is true for us. The only way we could ever pay for our sins is by spending eternity in hell, that’s the only transaction we could make with the holy God for our sins.
You see, it’s for that reason that it says, “A body you prepared for me.” Jesus, God’s Son, took on our human flesh and blood. Why so? So that he might have blood to shed for us on a shameful cross, blood that can do what the blood of animals and good works and gold and silver never could do, blood that can purify us and every sinner from every sin because it’s the holy precious blood of God’s one and only Son. Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me – a body that our Great High Priest would offer as the one great sacrifice for sin.
But was it an accepted sacrifice? Was the sacrifice of Jesus’ body acceptable to make the transaction complete, to pay for the sins of the whole world? Notice what we’re told: “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Christ came to do his Father’s will and completed that work. He said on the cross, “It is finished.” And God declared that His sacrifice was accepted by raising Jesus from the dead.
The writer to the Hebrews puts this in an interesting way, “Day after day every priest stand and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices…but when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” The OT priests were never finished, they offered sacrifices continually but were never done, why not? Because the blood of animals could not cleanse one guilty soul. But, when Jesus came and offered himself, he sat down at the right hand of God. When he was finished he could look from the beginning of the world to its end and see not one sinner left to be saved, not one sin left to be paid for. By his resurrection and exaltation to the right hand of the Father, God has assured all people that Jesus’ work is completely finished and his self-sacrifice was accepted as the full payment for all sins.
It is good to keep the fact of our Lord’s accepted sacrifice before our eyes. Judas was not the last sinner to find that sin often sleeps but then wakes up to terrify and torment. His sin seemed small—a little greed, a little helping himself to a few coins from the treasury. Sin slept. Even when he conspired with Jesus’ enemies for a few more coins, sin slept. But when he saw Jesus condemned to death, his sin awoke with a vengeance. The chief priests had no consolation to offer—”That’s your responsibility,” they said. But our Great High Priest did have consolation to offer—even to Judas. Judas himself confessed Jesus to be an acceptable sacrifice—”I have betrayed innocent blood” (Mt 27:4), he said. Tragically, he refused to believe that Jesus’ sacrifice was the sacrifice accepted by God to pay for sin and cleanse the conscience from guilt. May God keep us from the “little sins,”—the little greed, the little theft, the little lust, the little hatred. But should we fall into those sins and they wake up to haunt and torment us, may God open our eyes to see and believe what Judas rejected: Jesus our Great High Priest offered himself for the sins of the world, and his sacrifice was accepted by God! He sat down at the right hand of God—no further price is demanded, no more sacrifice required. Forgiveness is purchased and salvation is free. Believe. Rejoice. Live at peace here through Jesus until you live with him in his perfect peace forever.
Yes, Jesus is our Great High Priest who offers the greatest sacrifice—himself. He is himself the victim and our priest. May we by faith lay our hands on the head of God’s faultless Lamb and believe Christ has paid for our sins with his precious blood forever. Amen.