Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Tonight, as we gather to worship, forty-six men in the state of Missouri sit imprisoned on death row. All of them have been found guilty of murder in the court of law and have therefore been sentenced to death. Once their appeals in court are exhausted, only one source of hope will remain--the hope of a pardon by the governor. In the end, the governor, and no one else, will have the power to authorize the execution of these men, or grant them a pardon and free them from certain death.
2. I tell you this, not to persuade you one way or the other about the death penalty. I speak of these men on death row because in the just and righteous eyes of God we are no less guilty than they are. No, none of us has ever murdered anyone, (at least that I know of) but if we were to stand trial in the heavenly courtroom of God, we would all be declared guilty of murder. In this heavenly courtroom, where God sits as righteous Judge--we would be found guilty and sentenced to eternal death. We'd be put on hell's death row. Why? Because we are guilty. We are guilty of sin, even the sin of murder. For every time we hurt or harm our neighbor in thought, word, or deed we murder him. Spiritually we spill his blood. Every time we fail to help and support our neighbor in her quest for bodily security, we commit the sin of murder in our heart, and our hands are stained by with the blood-guilt of our sin.
3. Spiritually, we are under the same judgment as those 46 men who sit on Missouri's death row. The Law says we deserve a death sentence from God.
For the wages of sin is death.
Under the Old Covenant, the covenant of the Law, it's all very clear. For those guilty of murder the punishment is death. God, our righteous Judge says, in Exodus:
. . . if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Under the Old Covenant things are strictly reciprocal: What goes around comes around. You kill someone, you get killed in return. Under this covenant, we would stand accused by the Law. We would stand judged by God. We would stand guilty of all kinds of sin, murder included. Because of our sin we are worthy of nothing but death.
4. When you sit on this spiritual death row, there is no court of appeals to hear your case. And even if there were, what could we say? That we're innocent? It simply isn't true. God himself tells us that
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Jesus himself speaks of our guilt when he says,
[St. Matthew 15:19]
"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."
We, like those men on death row, have only source of hope; only one place to turn in hope that we will be saved from the blood-guilt that covers our souls. One place to turn in hope for a pardon. We place all our hope on one person, and we turn to him in hope for a pardon that will remove this sentence that condemns us to certain eternal death.
5. That person is our Lord Jesus Christ. In our reading for tonight we hear the he is
. . . the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
Under the New Covenant, Christ sets us free. He takes our place on death row. He stands as our substitute and receives the punishment our sins deserve. He takes our sins upon himself and then dies on the cross, where the Old Covenant would have us die. He says to God the Father, I plead guilty of the sin of all men. Give their punishment to me. He, the perfect, sinless, Son of God, places himself under the Law of the Old Covenant and makes an offering of his life so that our lives will be spared. In doing so, he fulfills the Old Law and brings to light the grace of the New Covenant. The covenant of freedom from sin. The covenant of pardon from God. In doing so he serves as our mediator. A mediator is someone who stands between you and someone else in order to bring reconciliation. Jesus stands between us and God the Father. He stands between us and the punishment we deserve. To bring about our reconciliation he shed his blood in our place on the cross. Thus he has become our Savior, rescuing us from certain death with a pardon written in his own blood.
6. To receive this pardon, we need not submit a plea in any earthly court of law. We need not call the governor or any other worldly official. Instead, we plead in prayer to Christ, because he alone is able to grant us the pardon we so desperately need. Christ has promised that when we call on him in prayer, contrition and confession he will pardon us. So we spend these forty days of Lent in a deep, sometimes painful reflection on our sinfulness. We devote ourselves to turning from our sins. We spend more time than usual examining our lives and confessing our sins to Christ. In faith, we hold fast to the promise that through his saving work on the cross, Christ grants us forgiveness. In faith we believe and hold fast to the promise that our pleas for mercy will not go unheard. In faith we live in freedom, for we know that Christ has granted us pardon. As the mediator of the New Covenant, he has freed us from the "eye for an eye" demands of the Old Covenant. Christ has set us free from the death row prison cell our sins have locked us in. Christ, by the promises of the New Covenant, has granted us a pardon from the sentence of death our sin has placed upon us. Christ, and no one else, is the source of this New Covenant, so we turn to him in contrition and repentance. We turn to him and confess our sins and hear his gracious words of pardon in the Holy Absolution. This is the new covenant in action; the pardon of the Lord poured down upon us.
7. Just like the Old Covenant, the New Covenant of Pardon was ratified in blood. The blood of Christ sealed the New Covenant. For us to be pardoned, it could not be otherwise, for
. . . without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Without the blood of Christ, there would be no New Covenant. If Christ had not bled and died, there would be no pardon for our sins. This New Covenant is the last will and testament of Christ. It could only take effect if he bled and died. Again, in our reading for tonight, we hear:
In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.
Christ put the New Covenant into effect as he died on the cross. He sealed the New Covenant of pardon with his own blood as it poured out from his precious veins. We know the New Covenant is in effect. The Old Testament predicted the death of the Messiah. The New Testament stands as a faithful witness to his bloody, gruesome death. The entire Bible says loud and clear that Christ, our crucified Lord has brought us pardon in his blood. The blood of Jesus commutes our death sentence and frees us to serve the living God. The blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, secures our release from the death row of hell. The blood of Jesus, spilled from his head, his hands, his feet, his side guarantees our eternal freedom in heaven above for a life that never ends. The blood of Jesus gives us a sure and certain future with our God--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--because in his mercy Christ bled and died. And in mercy still, the precious blood of Jesus for our pardon cries. That pardon is ours in the blood of the New Covenant: the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. In his name. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
February 27, 2008
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