*Chased by a Dirty Conscience*
Genesis 42:6–24; Luke 23:1–25
4. Clean or dirty, the conscience is a gift from God, a window through
which we view the world.
3. But only repentance wrought by God can lead to a cleansed conscience.
2. The collective conscience of Joseph’s brothers was in critical
condition, being led to repentance.
1. Our sin and guilt have been reckoned for in the blood of Jesus shed
on the cross.
The Lord Jesus Has a Gift for You: The Gift of a Clean Conscience.
Dreams really do come true—at least for Joseph. It had been a good twenty
years since teenage Joseph dreamt of how his brothers would one day bow
down before him. And tonight we see ten of those brothers down on their
knees before Joseph, with their faces to the ground. They were hungry, you
see. The whole world was hungry. Pharaoh’s dreams about seven years of
plenty had come to pass, and now seven years of famine were underway. It
was all happening just as Joseph had dreamt and foreseen. Dreams really do
But for Joseph’s brothers, a nightmare was about to begin. For two decades,
they had been living a lie. For twenty years, they had been hiding a deep,
dark secret. They had sold their own brother into a life of slavery and
misery. They had lied to their father—had broken old Jacob’s heart by
telling him that Joseph was dead. Their hatred had its way with Joseph, and
they smugly concealed their sin. But now they were bowing down before
Joseph, second-in-command of all Egypt, whom they did not recognize. And
soon they would be chased, hounded, and tortured by their own guilty
I’m sure you know what a conscience is. Your conscience is not always
perfectly reliable. It is not infallible; but it *is* a good gift from God.
The Early Church was much better at helping Christians to cultivate a
healthy conscience—to give attention to the condition of their conscience.
They had this bit of wisdom that the conscience was like a window through
which you view the world around you. Your conscience is your window on the
A bad, or guilty, conscience is much like a dirty window. The windows at
our house right now are very dirty. They bear the grit and grime of a
grueling winter. And spring cleaning has not yet begun. This means that
when I look out my living room window, everything looks a little darker and
dingier than it really is. Instead of a crisp, bright clarity, things are
hazy and smudgy. And maybe you’ve noticed that the dirtier the window is,
the more you see your own reflection in that window.
A bad, or guilty, conscience affects your view of the world in just the
same way. When you are concealing some shameful conduct—when you’re being
chased by a bad conscience—your whole world begins to look dirty and dark.
In fact, it looks like everything is after you. You get a little paranoid,
scared of your own shadow. And the harder you try to look off into the
distance for an escape, the more you simply see yourself—and the reflection
of your own sin and shame—as in a dirty window.
“If we say we have no sin,” if we conceal and cover up our sin, “we deceive
ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is
faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all
unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:8–9)*.* The key word there is* cleanse*. If a
guilty conscience is like a dirty window, then repentance is when the Lord
cleanses the window of the conscience so that we can see the world bathed
in the crystal clarity of our Lord’s light and life and love. Repentance
restores reality to our worldview. Confession and Absolution is the only
solution for a wounded, fearful conscience.
But the journey from a bad conscience to a clean conscience is not easy. In
fact, it’s a journey we cannot make without the Lord’s help. And this
“help” from the Lord is not always what you might imagine. A conscience
that’s smug and comfortable cannot be cleansed. God’s Law must do its work.
This is why Joseph initially acts so harshly with his brothers. This is why
Joseph doesn’t reveal himself to his brothers right away. This is why he
treats them like strangers and speaks roughly to them. This is why Joseph
puts them through their paces and brings their sin to remembrance.
These brothers have a classic case of a dirty conscience. Luther frames it
like this: he writes, “Thus the sons of Jacob have an evil conscience.
Therefore they tremble horribly and fear God’s vengeance” (AE 7:271). But
the situation of the brothers is even more dire. Their collective
conscience is in critical condition, causing them to dread what lies around
every corner: “These brothers are not only troubled about the sin of which
they were conscious—although they took pains to cover and conceal it—but
they were also afraid of all their words and deeds, and they imagined that
there was new guilt in every action or thought” (AE 7:277)*.*
In fact, as soon as Joseph demanded that they go and fetch their youngest
brother and bring him down to Egypt, they say to one another: “In truth we
are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul,
when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come
upon us.” To all this, Reuben replied, “Now there comes a reckoning for his
blood” (vv 21, 22). The diagnosis could not be clearer. The symptoms are
manifest. These brothers are being chased by a dirty conscience.
Now, it seems to them, they are getting their just deserts—their sin is
coming back to bite them, bad karma comes calling, justice is about to be
served. Revenge and retribution are closing in quickly. But in reality,
what feels so painful to them is neither karma nor punishment. Joseph isn’t
just toying with them. They are simply being led down the road of
repentance. The pain they feel so sharply will lead to purity. Their
conscience is being crushed—so that it might be cleansed of sin.
Like Joseph’s brothers, we, too, know what it feels like to be chased by a
guilty conscience—to have our view of the world clouded and smudged by the
stain of our own sin. Reuben was right. Reuben was right when he spoke
about a “reckoning for [the] blood.” Reuben’s restless conscience sensed
that a bloody reckoning was coming—that their sin would have to be answered
for by the shedding of blood. Reuben didn’t know how right he was. It’s
also true for us: *our sin* must be answered for. It can’t be covered up
forever. Either you must answer for your sin and face the fallout, *or*
your Savior must answer for it, and bear it all away.
What Reuben could only sense, we know for certain. We see it play out
before our eyes in this holy season of Lent—as we look back on the bloody
reckoning that Jesus endured in our stead. Although he was pure and
sinless, his blood was shed to pay for our sin. He endured the pain of the
cross so that you might know purity and peace. He was crushed so that you
might be cleansed of every sin. Jesus Christ has answered for all your
sins. The only question is whether you have the faith to believe that.
In tonight’s reading from the Passion according to St. Luke, we hear about
the scene involving Jesus and Barabbas. Barabbas was a rebel. Today we’d
call him a terrorist. He was a murderer who had shed the blood of innocent
people. He was guilty on all counts and was about to receive a reckoning
for all his evil acts. But at the insistence of the crowd, guilty Barabbas
goes free . . . and innocent Jesus is delivered over to death. The man who
shed innocent blood goes free, and the innocent man goes to the cross to
shed his innocent blood so that you can be cleansed of all unrighteousness.
This is God’s remedy for the tragedy of our sin.
The Lord Jesus Has a Gift for You: The Gift of a Clean Conscience.
“If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins
and to cleanse us”—“cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). You
don’t have to be chased and hounded by a dirty conscience. You can live
each day in the bright clarity of our Lord’s forgiveness and peace. You
don’t have to be afraid of the truth. For your sins, Jesus Christ has
answered. Justice has been served on his cross, and your conscience has
been cleansed by his holy, precious blood. Amen.