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3rd Sunday of Lent

Mercy, peace, and love be yours in abundance!  Dear friends in Christ:  Do you ever go to sleep at night wondering if the sun is going to rise in the morning or not?   Do you ever wonder if the next time you look out past Johnson City if the Appalachian Mts. will still be there or not?  Do you ever wonder if the next time you drive your car whether Roan street or the Interstate is going to be gravel or paved?  I’m guessing probably not.   There are some things in life you can just count on, right?  And they just become part of life, I mean, they’re just there and you don’t think about them.  At least for now.  But then, so I’m told and am probably about to experience, as little children grow up they start to ask, “why” about many things: Why does the sun come up every morning?  Why are there mountains?  Why is the road flat?  And it makes you think about it once again

I’ll bet this same curiosity existed among the Israelites 3,000 years ago.  Let’s review a little bit.  Imagine you’re one of the OT Israelites.  You’ve just seen God send 10 devastating plagues on the nation of Egypt, then God Himself led you out of slavery in Egypt by a cloud and a pillar of fire, then God parted a sea to let you walk through, then God provided you with food that fell from the sky, then God provided water for you from a rock, then God Himself came in thunder and lighting and smoke and fire on the mountain next to where you’re camping.  Wow!  Then God gives your leader Moses a long list of things the Israelites should be doing- including these sacrifice things.  Ok, we’ll do them because God has already done all of this for us.  But do you think they ever wondered what the purpose for all these sacrifices were?  Did God just want to make life hard for the Israelites?  Did God just like to see them doing busy work for Him?  What’s the point?  God had a reason.  Listen now to one of those sacrifices the Israelites were to do: (Read text).

Morning and evening.  Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, again and again.  One sheep after another, after another, after another.  That same routine again and again and again.  And can’t you almost hear a little Israelite boy ask his Dad, “Dad, why are these one year old lambs sacrificed twice a day, every day, 7 days a week?  How do you think he answered his son?  What do you think they were supposed to be reminded of when they saw this constant sacrifice day after day?

Remember it was God who wanted this sacrifice to be done every day.  God wanted them to know that this sacrifice was needed in order for them to be in a right relationship with Him.  They could not live before a holy God or be associated with God in any way without continual sacrifice.  Why?  Because they were the complete opposite of God- they were sinful, He is not, they were unfaithful, He is not.  So every morning and every evening a priest offered a 1 year old lamb as a sacrifice and they were reminded of their sin.  They were also reminded of the consequences of their sin: the lamb wasn’t to be just sheered or given a bath, no it had to be sacrificed.  They were reminded that their constant unfaithfulness needed to be punished.  They were reminded that their continual sin needed to be paid for by blood.  They could count on it, every morning and every evening.  Period.

But there was another aspect of this continual sacrifice, a far more important reminder, a far more wonderful reminder.  When they looked at this daily sacrifice, they were reminded that it’s not them on that altar- it’s a lamb.  A lamb is sacrificed in their place.  It’s their sin, but they aren’t the ones paying for it.  It’s their punishment, but they aren’t being punished.  It’s their problem, but they aren’t dealing with it.  This daily sacrifice pointed them to lasting forgiveness that the coming Savior would bring.  That daily sacrifice reminded them of the continual, day after day, forgiveness that the Savior would bring them.  That daily sacrifice reminded them of the restored relationship with the Holy God that the Savior would bring them.  That they could count on day after day after day.

Each one of us with a child’s inquisition perhaps has to look at Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and ask, “Why?” And what do we see when we look with eyes of faith at Jesus’, the Lamb of God’s, suffering and death?  What are we reminded of as He is spit at and struck and sneered at?  What comes to mind when The Lamb is sentenced to death and nailed hands and feet to a piece of wood?  What do we see over and over again as we consider Jesus’ suffering and death?

Well, there’s a reason why He’s there, and that reason is you and me.  We can shake our heads at someone like Peter but in the end, he looks an awful lot like you and me.  “Lord, I’m ready to go with you to prison and to death” and a little later with cursing and swearing, “I don’t know the man you’re talking about.”  Sound a little familiar? Well, maybe it’s coming to church and then the next day it’s going right back to the same sinful habit I’m stuck in.  Or maybe it’s thanking God for the gifts of health, wealth, and friends, but then turning around and denying Him and His goodness if He should dare take even a part of one of them from me!  Up and down, one moment confessing, the next denying- that’s a picture of our lives as Christians, too, isn’t it?  That continual need for a sacrifice for sins- we need that too.

And our sins have consequences too, don’t they?  Jesus didn’t just come to be laughed at or mocked or beaten up a little bit.  Certainly He suffered all that too, but He came to die, and not just a peaceful death, but to be crucified on a cross.  We look at that sacrifice on the cross and we are reminded that our constant unfaithfulness needed to be punished, our continual sin needed to be paid for by blood.  That we can count on.

But that’s not the end of the explanation, there’s more to the Lamb of God’s sacrifice.  Our Father explains it.  Here, we’re reminded of something far more wonderful and far more awesome than even words can describe.  We’re reminded that it’s not us up there on the cross, it’s not us enduring hell itself, it’s not us who must die!  Yes, it’s our sin, but we’re not the ones paying for it.  Yes, it should be our punishment but we’re not the ones being punished!  The Lamb of God climbed that hill called Calvary for you!

Jesus did God’s will perfectly.  Jesus was the fulfillment of each and every sacrifice of the OT.  Jesus fulfilled what each and every one of those countless 1 year old lambs pointed to.  Jesus sacrificed Himself once and for all!  Jesus offered Himself as the one perfect sacrifice for sins for all time!  The sin you were born with? Paid.  Each and every evil thought you’ve ever had?  Paid.  Each and every sinful thing you’ve ever done?  Paid.  Sins you might commit tomorrow or the next day or the next day?  Paid.  Each and every one of your sins has been paid by Jesus.

So why do we have a Lenten season every year?  Why do we consider Jesus’ death on the cross over and over again?  Why?  Because it’s here at the cross where you see who your God is most clearly.  You see your God who loves you most dearly, who completely on His own choosing gave you: release from the guilt of sin, release from the slavery of sin, release from the wrath of God, release from the curse of the law, release from the power of Satan, release from death and hell.  It’s here at the cross where God has given you full redemption once and for all, a declaration of innocence, and eternal life.

So what does this mean?  Yesterday and every day before it, today, tomorrow and every day after you can be absolutely sure that Jesus is the lasting sacrifice for all of your sins!  That’s something you can always count on!