24th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 28 – B)
November 15, 2015
“You Don’t Need to Make It Up”
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
If you’ve ever hurt a loved one, either on purpose or by accident, you know that your actions can cause immense pain. We lose our tempers with our spouses and our children, we say hurtful things to our neighbors and friends, and sometimes the wounds we cause take a long time to heal. If we have a conscience, we feel remorse and one of our first impulses might be to try to fix what we’ve broken. Have you ever found yourself asking, “How can I make it up to you?” or “What can I do to show you how sorry I am?” We want to do something, we want to take whatever steps are necessary to make what we’ve done to just be forgotten. It doesn’t generally work this way though, does it? You can’t buy forgiveness by bringing flowers, jewelry, or a new toy. Gifts might soothe ruffled feathers, but they can’t fix hurt feelings. And just as hard as it is to make it up to someone we love, it is so much harder, and impossible, to make it up to God. When we break God’s Law we might want to say to Him, “How can I make it up to you?” or “What can I do to show you how sorry I am?” but we can’t do anything to make it up to God. But then again, God doesn’t call on us to make up for what we’ve done, instead we have forgiveness, so there’s no need to make anything up.
As you might remember, in the Old Testament, especially in Leviticus, there was a heavy emphasis on the sacrifices of the people. There were thank offerings, grain offerings, and of course, sin offerings. Four chapters in Leviticus describe in detail the sacrificial requirements if a priest, the nation, or an individual sinned unintentionally against the Lord. These sacrifices were necessary because when someone sinned against God, it made them unholy. In other words, their sin made them impure and so they were cut off from God. In order to make the sinner clean and pure, and for forgiveness to be declared, God demanded that blood be shed. The sacrifices cleansed the people and this forgiveness enabled them to once again enter God’s presence. And yet, these offerings couldn’t, by themselves, make atonement, make up, for the sins of the people.
God had given them the sacrificial system out of His mercy. Out of His love for His people He provided a way for them to atone for their sins and receive forgiveness. But the problem for the people was that the sin offerings had to be repeated. No sacrifice could completely remove the stain of sin, and people, even if they’re sorry, repeatedly sin. In our text the author of Hebrews writes, “Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” What this means is that the mere action of a sacrifice an animal didn’t forgive sins. No matter how flawless the animal, it was still sinful because all of creation is sinful. So while God commanded these sacrifices, it wasn’t because an animal was sacrificed that forgiveness came to the people. Rather, what took away the sins of the Israelites is the same thing that takes away your sins, the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.
You see, Jesus wasn’t just the offering for the sins of those to come after Him, but for all people. His death transcends time as it goes back to forgive those who died before He died, and it goes forward in time to forgive those who lived after He did. No one is outside of God’s forgiveness. The sacrifices of the Old Testament were effective simply because of the sacrificial death of Christ Jesus. Our text says, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet. For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” There is so much here that gives comfort to those who think they need to atone for their own sins and for those who think that they must do something to make up to God for the things they have done. There is nothing to be done, Christ has done it all. Your sins were made up for, they were made up for through the death of Jesus.
In the book of Leviticus God repeatedly refer to proper sacrifices as producing, “a pleasing aroma”. When Jesus sacrificed Himself on the altar of the cross, His death was a pleasing aroma to the Father because He is the perfect Sacrifice. He was the perfect Lamb whose death was more than enough to make up for our sins. On Communion Sundays we sing the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God, You take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world; grant us peace”. What a great hymn of praise! These words promise us that there’s no sin left unforgiven, no guilt left to stain us, no unholiness to separate us from God. Instead Christ took all Sin upon Himself and our guilt became His guilt. It is this perfect sacrifice that led the author of Hebrews to quote the Lord who said, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more”.
What wonderful news! Your sins are completely forgotten by God because Jesus did what we couldn’t do – He made it up to God. And now we’re assured that God hears our prayers, our calls for mercy, our repentant cries for forgiveness. The author of Hebrews writes, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” This pure water is the water of baptism, the water combined with God’s Word that washes us so that our hearts, minds and consciences are clean. This is why we start our service with confession and absolution. We begin by confessing our sins and being washed by the absolution spoken on Christ’s authority so that we may enter God’s presence and receive all the gifts that offers here in His Holy house; forgiveness of our sins, strengthening of our faith, protection against Satan, and equipping us for every good work that we do to God’s glory.
These promises of God are kept because His Son didn’t shirk His duty as the Lamb led to the slaughter, but went willingly and laid down His life for us on the altar of the cross. As those who have been the beneficiaries of such a great and awesome sacrifice, we now gather together today, on other Sunday’s, and any other day we listen to God’s Word, so that we may receive the gifts He offers through His Word and Sacraments. It’s especially important that we heed the words of our text, and “[Not] neglect to meet together, but encouraging one another, as you see the Day of Christ’s return drawing near.” As those who are forgiven and as those who are saved, we encourage one another in the faith, we lift up those who are hurting in our prayers, we support others so that we all have our eyes fixed on heaven as we await the coming of the Savior. This is what we look forward to, for on that day we shall see the result of Christ’s sacrifice as take our places around throne of the Lamb to whom alone belongs all “blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever! Amen”
Too often we waste our time trying to make up to God like we’re trying to make up to our spouses. But like our spouses and families, God doesn’t forgive us because of the gifts we bring or the things we do. Our families and our God forgive us because they love us. The love of our families is seen in the way they take us back unconditionally, while the love of God is seen in the death of His Son which gives us unconditional forgiveness. Because of His love for you and because of the one availing sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, you’re forgiven. No longer does God see you as someone unworthy to enter His presence. But He sees you as He sees His Son the Great Sacrificial Lamb; cleansed, holy, and without the need to make anything up to God.
Now may the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen