+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Left to ourselves we tend to assume that our sins are forgiven, even without repentance. We base our assumption on a number of things. At the end of the day, when we rehearse the day’s events in our minds and we come across those things that shame us, or, that should shame us, we’re apt to say something like, “oh well, nobody is perfect.” It’s what I like to call the “sinner loves company defense.” But, it’s sort of an odd defense, don’t you think? Everybody is messed up, so, the fact that I’m messed up too makes me O.K. The thing is, while that might be true in the eyes of other messed up people, it isn’t true in the eyes of God, who says, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
There’s also the “I’m still better than the other guy defense.” With this defense, sins are looked at as if they’re plotted on a scale. Oh, I don’t mean literally, but in effect. If murder is worth, say, a negative 50 points, (it has to be negative, you see, because these are sins). But, if murder is worthy, say, a negative 50 points, then my dragging my neighbor’s name through the mud couldn’t be worth more than about minus 10 points, maybe even a negative 5. God has to grade on a sliding scale. All of my 5 pointers don’t amount to much in comparison to that one guys 50 pointer. It’s the “I’m still better than the other guy defense.”
Finally, there’s the whole notion that, even though my sins bother me a bit, because I do, in fact, have a conscience, God isn’t really offended by my sin. It’s the “there is no judge defense, or, maybe, the judge fell asleep in the 16th century and never woke up again defense.” As silly as it may seem, this last defense is the one that seems to have a strong grip on our culture.
Harold Senkbeil, an LCMS Pastor and author, once surmised that every generation has its central, or, its pressing question regarding God. In the 16th century, Luther’s time, the question was ‘since I am a sinner, how can I escape the awful wrath of God on the day of judgment?’ While the church said, “do penance,” “make your own atonement,” Luther, by God’s grace, restored the Gospel of Jesus’ atoning death to the church. Therefore, you stand before God on the Day of Judgment by the merit of Christ and not by your own merit.
What sort of religiously based question though are people asking today? Senkbeil says it’s something like “where in the world is God?” Gone is the fear of wrath and judgment. In its place is a twisted judgment of God. Why isn’t He where He should be when He should be there? To put it in literary terms, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Why doesn’t God step up? Why doesn’t He perform?
There is a trickle down effect with the question people are asking, or, not asking, as it were. Where sin is trivialized, denied, or, ignored, so too is the church. It was even an issue among the German people in Luther’s day. Thus, as only he could do, he admonished the people of Germany. He wrote, “Indeed, even among the nobility there are some louts and skinflints who declare that we can do without pastors and preachers from now on because they have everything in books and can learn it all by ourselves. So they blithely let parishes fall into decay, and brazenly allow both pastors and preachers to suffer distress and hunger. This is what one can expect of crazy Germans. We Germans have such disgraceful people among us and must put up with them.”
In a world where people think of sin and God’s wrath as an ancient concept, the church is looked upon as being less and less relevant and useful. What is erroneously seen as the central purpose of worship, one of the central functions of the church, namely the praise and adoration of God, is no motivator for the one who sees God as ‘missing in action.’ In a sense, God becomes irrelevant, unless, of course, He is needed to pull us through some crisis, or, some particularly trying time in our lives. Thus, the church is looked upon as being less and less relevant and useful.
On the evening of the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples were huddled together in a room in Jerusalem. Yes, they were frightened, mainly of the Jews, who tended to kill people who followed Jesus. But, they must have also been terribly disillusioned. Where in the world was God? You see, it’s not really a new question. Where was the Father when His Son was given up to die on the cross? Where was He when they mocked Jesus, when they spit on Him, when they shoved that crown of thorns down on His head? Where was God when the soldier’s spear pierced Jesus’ side and when they laid Him in the tomb?
These sorts of questions are important, but Jesus’ knew they didn’t get to the heart of the disciples greatest need. They wanted to delve into the depths of God’s will and His ways. What they really needed though was peace and, ultimately forgiveness, because it was their sins and their sinfulness that put Jesus on the cross in the first place.
“Peace be with you (Jesus said). As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
And so, like the disciples, who huddled together in the upper room, we gather here week after week, not primarily to praise God, but to receive that which only God can give. The church has, not only the honor, but also the command to forgive and to retain sins. By God’s design then, forgiveness isn’t a speculative, or, even a subjective matter. You are given to judge yourself forgiven! Rather, forgiveness is a declaration, an objective fact, something that is pronounced to the repentant, whose sins have driven them to desire God’s forgiveness.
You came here this morning and you confessed your sin to God. “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto You ALL my sins and iniquities with which I have ever OFFENDED YOU.” Whether you rehearsed your sins in your mind or not, you confessed to God that you are utterly and totally guilty before Him! You are innocent of NOTHING, because, as the Scriptures say, “if you are guilty of violating one commandment of the Law, you are guilty of violating the whole Law.”
Thus, Luther writes, “when I urge you to go to confession, I am simply urging you to be a Christian. If I bring you to this point, I have also brought you to confession. Those who really want to be good Christians, free from their sins, and happy in their conscience, already have the true hunger and thirst. They snatch at the bread just like a hunted hart, burning with heat and thirst, as the psalmist says, “As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God.” That is, as a hart trembles with eagerness for a fresh spring, so I yearn and tremble for God’s Word, absolution, the sacrament.”
You confessed your sins. And, by the way, you did so because God is at work in you. It is, after all, “the kindness of God that leads you to repentance.” You confessed your sins, and God put before you His under shepherd, who, in the stead, or, in the place of Christ, and by His command, has forgiven you all of your sins.
A practice that some within the church find offensive, namely God’s forgiveness coming from the lips of another sinner, was given to the church by Jesus Himself. It is a treasure that only the church possesses. No one dare pronounce the forgiveness of Christ unless he speaks by the command of Christ. Thus, on the very night of His resurrection, Jesus appeared before His disciples and said, “Peace be with you (Jesus said). As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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