How To Get Free From Guilt – Leviticus 16 (April 5-6)

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Synopsis of Sermon

Guilt – it’s a universal human experience. Virtually every religion and therapy has to come up with a way to deal with it. Some of us are so guilt-prone, so sensitive to guilt, that our guilt ‘smoke alarm’ goes off even when it shouldn’t. Some parents feel guilty if they don’t manage to wash and wax the kitchen floor 3-times a week like their own mother managed to. This is a defective guilt smoke alarm!

But in the 21st Century West, guilt hyper-sensitivity is disappearing. Instead, people are disabling their smoke alarms altogether. We’ve taken the batteries out, so it doesn’t go off even when the house is on fire! Our age says guilt only holds you back, it’s a harmful waste of emotional energy. Christian Smith surveyed Millennials, and found they usually denied having any regrets about any of their past behavior, even if in reality many past-mistakes still haunted them. One young man who’d spent 10 years addicted to drugs said “I don’t regret it at all because it made me who I am today.”

Old Testament Israel had a day in the year dedicated to the wiping away of guilt: The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), described in Leviticus 16:1-22. In this sermon series we’re seeing the Old Testament as a signpost pointing ahead of itself to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. So what happens on Yom Kippur, that deals with guilt? And how does it point forward to Jesus?

First of all, on the Day of Atonement access to God is gained. Only one day a year, the High Priest, on behalf of the people, could step into the ‘Holy of Holies’, and access the presence of God (Heb 9:7). If he tried to enter it on another day, he would die! (Lev 16:2). The tabernacle curtain which the priest entered behind was a protection: protecting God from our uncleanness, and protecting us from his judgment on human sin.

But Jesus has now torn that curtain from ‘top to bottom’! (Matt 27:51). The presence of God has been thrown open to anyone who will come to Him through Jesus. God’s presence was something to be dreaded. Now it’s something to be enjoyed. The Christian can enter it confidently (Heb 10:19). A bit like Rich’s teenage son had confidence to open his family’s fridge and help himself, so God’s children have access to God.

How confident are we to enter God’s presence through Jesus? The way to find out is to listen to our prayers. Are you able to be frank with God, or do you cloak your real desires with a lot of spiritual sounding words? The blood of Jesus has bought for us a guaranteed hearing from the Throne of Grace. Not just one day a year, but whenever we pray (Heb 4:14-16).

How has this access been opened for us? A substitute is offered. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest took two goats to the tabernacle door, and one was slaughtered for the sins of the people (Lev 16:9-16). God doesn’t simply wave his hand and say, “Well, I just forgive because I’m forgiving.” Sin is paid for by the blood of a substitute. If we have a well-functioning conscience, the reason we feel guilty is because we are, in fact, guilty. But Jesus has offered up his own body as our sacrifice. His shed blood gives us complete atonement (‘at-one-ment’) with God.

What does the Day of Atonement point to? Access to God is gained. A substitute is offered. And lastly, guilt is cleansed. One goat was sacrificed for sins, but look what happened to the other goat, in Leviticus 16:20-22. The nation’s sins were confessed onto it, and it was permanently driven away into the wilderness. This is what happens when God forgives you through the blood of Christ. Your sins are separated from you, driven away, ‘as far as the east is from the west’ (Ps 103).

But what if I still feel guilty? Despite hearing that Jesus’ death takes away our sins, some of us still hear condemning thoughts, as though God is saying ‘You’re a loser, get out of my sight’. But Jesus said he came not to condemn the world but to save it. Rather, these thoughts are from Satan, himself, the accuser. There’s a difference between condemnation and conviction: Condemnation pushes our faces into our sins. Conviction causes us to look at our sins, and then to Jesus on the cross, who takes them away.

Getting the Conversation Started

These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.

If your conscience was a smoke alarm, which defect would it more likely have: an over-sensitive sensor (beeping when it wasn’t needed), or a flat battery (not going off when something had actually caught fire)?

Growing up, were you ever summoned to the principal’s office? What did you feel like? And were you punished or let off the hook?

Scripture Study

Read: Luke 23:13-25

“Pilate called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people,and said to them, “You have brought me this man as one who subverts the people. But in fact, after examining Him in your presence, I have found no grounds to charge this man with those things you accuse Him of. Neither has Herod, because he sent Him back to us. Clearly, He has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will have Him whipped and then release Him.” [For according to the festival he had to release someone to them.]

Then they all cried out together, “Take this man away! Release Barabbas to us!” (He had been thrown into prison for a rebellion that had taken place in the city, and for murder.)

Pilate, wanting to release Jesus, addressed them again, but they kept shouting, “Crucify! Crucify Him!”

A third time he said to them, “Why? What has this man done wrong? I have found in Him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore, I will have Him whipped and then release Him.”

But they kept up the pressure, demanding with loud voices that He be crucified. And their voices won out. So Pilate decided to grant their demandand released the one they were asking for, who had been thrown into prison for rebellion and murder. But he handed Jesus over to their will.”


In Luke’s biography, Jesus has come to bring God’s Kingdom, a drastic reversal of fortune for a nation groaning for God’s comfort and release. Jesus’ birth brought joy to a barren woman, unimportant shepherds, a prayerful widow and a dying old man (chapters 1-4). Jesus’ first sermon announced ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me to preach good news to the poor and to proclaim freedom to the captives’ (4:18). Those waiting in chains varied from men possessed by demons, to women involved in prostitution, from thieving tax collectors, to penniless widows, and those with paralyzed limbs. In each case the Messiah’s Kingdom spoke release. While those on the outside were welcomed in, some on the inside of Israel’s religious system were being cast out (14:23, 16:15, 19:45). When the Pharisees fling Jesus before Pilate and accuse him of ‘subverting the nation’, they know that his Kingdom would certainly reverse their own status. Here, close to the climax of the Gospel, we get the strangest reversal of all. Barabbas, a homicidal political terrorist, gets released, and God’s blameless chosen King gets executed. The incident flashes momentary light on how, later that afternoon, Jesus did finally break the chains of sin that bound Israel and the whole world.

  • What’s the verdict that Pilate (who has Roman judicial authority over the region) pronounces upon Jesus?
  • How many times does he try to pronounce the verdict?
  • Why, then, does this verdict not get carried out?
  • Read out a name of a character in the story and ask the group: what were they guilty of?

– Pilate.

– The crowd.

– Barabbas.

– Jesus.

  • Who, or what kind of person, would be our modern equivalent of Barabbas?
  • What parts of Barabbas’s status were put onto Jesus? What parts of Jesus status were put onto Barabbas?

Below you’ll see some options for ministry time with your group. We always encourage you to reserve time in your group to pray for one another and wait on the Holy Spirit. 

  • An imaginary exercise. Imagine your life if you’d never heard about the cross of Jesus. Write down on a piece of paper (a) what things would be holding you captive. (b) what things you would be guilty of. Imagine yourself in Barabbas’ prison cell. Imagine someone coming to the door, and asking for your list of wrong doing. They take it from you and declare that Jesus has now been charged with all these things, and has been sentenced to death. They open up the door of your cell, and tell you that you are free to go. Rip up your sheet of paper. Have someone read aloud Colossians 2:13-14. You could then have a time of open prayer.
  • Rich talked about how, for Christians, thoughts of condemnation are from satan, while thoughts of conviction are from the Spirit. What are the times when you are most vulnerable to thoughts of condemnation? Which charges against you do you need to remove and nail to the cross of Jesus? If you’re prone to condemning thoughts, why not ask someone to pray with you this night about you, and receive the release of Jesus’ blood.
  • We can assume Barabbas didn’t stay in his prison cell, but we don’t know whether he became a follower of Jesus, or went back to his life of rebellion. What do you want to do with your Jesus-bought freedom? Now that you’re free of charge, how do you want to serve God this month? Spend time together in prayer giving the parts of your body over to God as those set free to serve him.