Guilt is feelings of shame and failure. It can drive us to punish ourselves in various ways. People filled with guilt usually view God as a mean and overbearing judge. We feel His anger over sins and that the only way to appease Him is to try to be good, to do good works. However, we only see His standards as impossible to achieve and we have no chance to please Him. Such thoughts bring on a feeling of hopeless about the situation and a sense of dread of what we will experience when we die. For many people, they resign themselves to living in His disapproval. Such people are without peace! Or, the peace that they have is a false one, one that is regulated by efforts to please God, to atone for sin.
Fortunately, today’s text tells us of what God did for us in Christ Jesus! We were once alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our sins. But, God, who is rich in grace, sent His only-begotten Son to save us! He saved us from our sins, our guilt, our alienation and hostile feelings in our minds toward God. In Him “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (vs. 14). “For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” (vss. 19 through 22).
The gospel, as we clearly and abundantly see in our text, reveals the very heart of what God is like, especially in sending Jesus, “… He is the image of the invisible God…” (vs. 15). He is ready to forgive. God is forgiving by nature. “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You” Psalms 86:5. In Christ, God has redeemed us from our sins. In Christ, God has redeemed us from our sins and see us blameless, faultless and without sin!
However, a troubled conscience continuously reproaches us of the sin that dwells in our sinful nature. No one can ever reach a point in life where the Law of God no longer rebukes and condemns them of their sins, which are real, terrible, and damming. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Sadly, there are many who fall into hypocrisy or the practice of self-righteousness. As Christians, we are very aware of our sins. Even the Apostle Paul lamented, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). We all struggle with sin that dwells within us (Romans 7:17). We struggle within our conscience and often with sever afflictions. But since our sins are real and true, the price of redemption must be greater and more powerful to benefit us and remove the judgment brought on us by sin.
But the very message of Christianity is that even with our awareness of sin, being sinners, judged and condemned in conscience by God’s Law, we are made worthy in Christ and are the dear children of our heavenly Father. However, it is easy to say and to write about such things, but the message of the gospel does not easily find its way into a distressed conscience, as those troubled by sin know only too well.
There is a story about the night Martin Luther went to sleep, troubled about his sin. In a dream he saw an angel standing by a blackboard and at the top of the board was Luther’s name. The angel was listing all of Luther’s sins, and the list filled the blackboard. Luther shuddered in despair, feeling that his sins were so many that he could never be forgiven.
But suddenly in his dream he saw a pierced hand writing above the list these words: “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin”. As Luther gazed in amazement, the blood flowed from the wonderful hand and washed the record clean. This is what our text declares to us. We have been reconciled. Jesus made peace with God “through the blood of His cross” (20). Through His death on the cross, Jesus presents us before God as those who are “blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (22). We cry out with the psalmist, “You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin” (Psalms 85:2).
“In [Him] we have redemption through His blood; the forgiveness of sins” (14). These very words assure us with certainty that Christ has already fully paid the ransom for all our sins and reconciled us to God. Therefore, the sins which we feel, that trouble our conscience, can no longer separate us from God and condemn us if, through it all, we cling by faith to Jesus, “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard…” (23). Dear friends, we need to hear this Gospel over and over, and we need to appropriate it to ourselves. In other words, we need the Gospel each and every day, and every moment. This is especially true because of the sin that dwells within us and abounds all around us in this fallen world. Without the Gospel, we live in dread and fear because of our sins.
I know I have shared this illustration with you previously some time ago,but it is worth repeating. A father was driving his car with his young son sitting in the front seat. A bee entered through the open window. Normally, we are fearful of bees, not wanting to be stung. But some people, like the young boy, are deathly allergic to bee stings. The boy was petrified with fright when he saw the bee; all he could do was to scream! The father instantly reached out with his hand and caught the bee. Then, he squeezed it tightly with his hand. The boy looked at such bravery with rapt amazement. Then the father opened his hand, and the bee started to fly once again. Sure enough, the boy gave in to fear and started to panic. But with a firm and reassuring voice, the father said to his son. “Son, don’t worry! It’s okay!The bee can’t hurt you! His sting is in my hand. And so God did the same for us in Christ, grabbing hold of sin, strangling it, and removing it sting!
Listen, dear friends, all of you gathered here in the Divine Service! In our text, God the Father speaks to us with such comforting words that give us peace. We are reminded that God sent His son to redeem us from our slavery to sin, and all the fear and dread that goes with it! “… God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Through His agony, suffering, and alienation with God, Christ Jesus was the hand of God reaching to take hold of our sins. His hands upon the cross, fastened with nails, were the hands of God taking within Himself the sting of sin, which is death. Jesus took the “my sins, my sins” of Luther, of Pastor Brockwell, of each of you assembled here today, in fact, Jesus took the sins of the whole world. Through His blood he washed them all away. “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Such is the forgiveness of God!
Human reason is not used to such forgiveness! What is more, so many hear of such forgiveness, but the Gospel does enter the hearts of all, for they do not feel their sins. Everything we have in us, says Luther, is sin. We don’t like to talk about sin, preferring to cover it up or excuse it, pretending it isn’t important. But the conquest of the cross means God kills sin by taking it with him in his death. The cross reveals God’s love, His forgiveness, meaningand hope for our lives. “The cross is where Jesus tackled the real sin of our lives and purchased real forgiveness, “making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” And this peace, the Bible tells us, the world cannot give. A peace purchased with the blood of Jesus, backed up with his glorious resurrection, and presented now to you within His church.”
Such is God’s forgiveness of sins! It is quite a different thing from man’s forgiving, from your forgiving and mine! When we forgive another his sins, we think of them again, or perhaps we even lay the sins of others, that is, we remind them of their sins! Not so with God! Our text tells us in Christ, we are “holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight” (22). God no longer condemns you “if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard” (23). Only as we hear the Gospel, the preaching of God’s Word, and make regular use of the Sacraments, will we continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Neither will we drift away from the assurance of God’s forgiveness through the Gospel. Yes, the Gospel teaches and assures us that God forgives, He also forgets. He condemns us no more. As Luther writes, “He banishes all wrath from him, he thinks no more of sin. Now when this wrath is gone, then hell, death, and devil and all misfortune that the devil may bring with him, must also disappear; and instead of wrath God gives grace, comfort, salvation and everything good that he himself is. Sin is all unhappiness, forgiveness is true happiness. The divine majesty is great, great is also that which it forgives. But you must know in your heart how great these words are in which you must trust and for which you can cheerfully die. Only a few rightly receive these words, therefore there are but few true Christians.”
“All the gifts and treasures of salvation have flowed to us from the rich and surging spring of God’s rich grace. By His pure grace and undeserved love, God has given His only Son to be our Savour. By pure grace, He has made us accepted in this dear Son of His and chosen us as His own before the foundation of the world. By pure grace, He daily forgives all our sins for the sake of Christ’s redeeming blood. By pure grace, He gives us His Holy Spirit who sanctifies us and also coaxes us to a new obedience. Thus everything is given to us freely from the riches of His grace.” Nothing else is required of us but that with believing hearts we let grace remain grace and not attempt in any way to earn it by our merits. And, “when your sins bother you and when death, God’s wrath and hell make you fearful, lift up your eyes and your heart toward the bright, radiant sun of God’s grace which in Christ shines upon all the sinners of the world. In other words, when you see nothing but sin in yourself and feel only unworthiness, cling at that moment with all boldness of heart and trust to God’s Word of grace.” Amen.
Pastor Ned Brockwell
 Triumph at the cross, Harold L Senkbeil, Northwestern Pub. House, 1999, pp. 50-51.
 The Doctrine of Faith Unto Salvation, Fredrik Gabriel Hedberg, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission, Inc.; second printing edition (2001)