There are two ways to approach God. One is safe, and the other leads to death. Since the Fall, to approach God uncovered, that is, without blood, is to die. Think of Adam and Eve in the Garden. After they sinned, they tried to make coverings for themselves with fig leaves. But there was no blood. God covered their sin and shame by the first shedding of blood. He killed an animal and turned its skin into clothing.
The entire Old Testament sacrificial system was about being covered by blood. The blood of the sacrifices was sprinkled on the altar and on the one making the sacrifice. Apart from that covering of blood, there was no forgiveness. And with no forgiveness, it meant one was still in his sin and doomed to die.
And even today, the center of the Christian life is the Blood of Jesus, because the Blood of Jesus is how God takes away your sin. Only a true man, our Brother, can take our place and offer His perfect obedience and perfect Blood as the sacrifice that takes away the sin of the world. Only the true God can offer a sacrifice sufficient to appease His own wrath against sinners. Apart from Jesus, there is only death.
We see all of this come to bear in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Both come to the Temple during the evening sacrifice. The Temple is where God came to man. The blood of the sacrifices was offered there and God’s wrath was appeased. Man could come to God with his praises and his prayers. So it was customary for the Temple to be filled with people at the time of the evening sacrifice. While it was being offered, they offered their prayers to God.
Except the Pharisee cared nothing for the blood. Notice that he didn’t pray to God. What we heard from the translation read a few minutes ago is okay. But it misses part of the impact of the Greek. What Jesus really says is that the Pharisee prayed with or to himself! He presumed to approach God, not because of the blood being offered, but because of his own goodness. Yes, he addressed his prayer to God, but he really wasn’t there to talk to God. He was there to brag about himself.
“God, I thank You that I am not like other men; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” He thanks God, but that’s not real thanksgiving. Prayer is an act of worship, and the one he’s worshipping is himself! He passes over his own sin by pointing out the publicly assumed sins of someone else. We all know that first century tax collectors were notoriously awful. They were often extortioners. They took more than was owed to pocket the rest for themselves. So, the Pharisee tries to convince God of his righteousness by comparing himself to the man everyone assumes is the worst of the worst. Surely God must be impressed with him, considering the alternative! But there was no blood. He said nothing of sin and forgiveness, no appeal to the blood of the sacrifice for God’s favor. So as Jesus reveals, he went home unforgiven.
But the tax collector appealed to the blood. He didn’t talk about himself because he knew he had nothing of his own to offer. He begs for mercy. But not just regular mercy. The word we know from the Kyrie and this word for mercy are two different things. Literally, he says “God, be propitiated to me, a sinner.” But what does that mean? To be propitiated means to be brought back into God’s favor by way of blood. Really the tax collector’s prayer is, “God, take away my sins because of the blood. Restore our relationship because of the sacrifice.”
And He did. God forgave. The tax collector left the Temple justified by God. The tax collector didn’t brag about how good he was or how much he had to give God. Instead, he knew that anything he could try to offer was a filthy rag, so he begged God not to look at him or his works, but at the blood of the sacrifice that covered him.
And so it is for you. Jesus is the propitiation for your sins. He has brought you back into the Father’s favor because of His own Blood. Jesus is the propitiation for your sin! It is not just covered by His Blood, but it is washed away, gone completely. He has done what the Law demanded, He has put Himself in your place, died the death you deserve, endured the punishment you deserve, and gives you the forgiveness you so desperately need.
At your Baptism, the Blood of Jesus was poured over you. All that your eyes saw was water, but faith saw the Blood and rejoiced. And in just a few minutes you will receive that same Blood again. All that the eyes see and the tongue tastes is wine, but faith knows the Blood is there. Faith knows that Jesus and His propitiating Blood are given to you, for the forgiveness of your sins.
There are two ways to approach God. One is safe and the other leads to death. That is why we come to church. We come to meet God in the Blood. The Body nailed to the cross and the Blood shed there to forgive all our sin is given and received here in this church today by sinners who can offer to God nothing more than the tax collector. We come to eat and to drink. We cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” We don’t make excuses, pass the blame, compare ourselves to others to attempt to self-justify, or lift up before God everything good we’ve done thinking it could somehow outweigh the bad. We lay claim to the Blood of Jesus shed for us. And when Our Lord Jesus gives us His Body and His Blood to eat and to drink He tells us that this is for the forgiveness of our sins, and we believe Him. And we leave this place and go into our lives justified by God.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.