IN NOMINE JESU
As we begin our Lenten journey this evening, we make our way to the cross of Christ as we make our way there through the Liturgy, for it is in Divine Service that our salvation is laid out for us to see, to speak, to sing, and to pray. It is a journey that only Jesus can take to its ultimate conclusion: the cross. We cannot complete this journey ourselves, for we cannot make any payment for our sins, even at the cost of our very lives. That’s why Jesus went to the cross; He went there to die for us—for you, for me, and for the life of the world. We are reminded of His journey by the crosses and crucifix that adorn our chancel. The journey we are on takes us before these crosses, bringing us before the Lord’s Table, that He would give us the very body He bore on the cross and the true blood He shed there to win our forgiveness, so that He would give us a share in His victory through His Supper, as He will this evening. Our Lenten journey brings us before the altar of the Lord, for it was on the altar of the cross that Jesus sacrificed Himself for us, that we would have eternal life in Him.
Like every other journey, ours this Lenten season has a starting point. It begins as we are gathered around God’s Word and Sacraments, gathered in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, our liturgical journey beginning just as our lives as Christians began in Holy Baptism. We are brought into the remembrance of our Baptism by those 15 words. What follows our remembering our Baptism is our living it as we confess our sins. Martin Luther teaches us in his Large Catechism:
And here you see that Baptism, both in its power and signification, comprehends also the third Sacrament, which has been called repentance, as it is really nothing else than Baptism. For what else is repentance but an earnest attack upon the old man [that his lusts be restrained] and entering upon a new life? Therefore, if you live in repentance, you walk in Baptism, which not only signifies such a new life, but also produces, begins, and exercises it. For therein are given grace, the Spirit, and power to suppress the old man, so that the new man may come forth and become strong. [LC VI:74-76]
In the practice of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church, the Sacrament of Holy Baptism takes place at the beginning of Divine Service, so that the candidate for Baptism would be ushered in the kingdom of God as soon as possible. Similarly, we confess our sins at the start of the Service so that we would receive God’s forgiveness via Holy Absolution at the earlies possible moment and that we may proceed through the Liturgy with a lightened heart and receive God’s gifts with great joy and thanksgiving, that we would be strengthened in our journey. It is imperative that, as we set out on this Lenten journey, that our hearts be right before God. For this to happen, we must confess our sins, which our many and great.
King David, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote the 51st Psalm, from whence our text comes, after having been brought to repentance through the preaching of the prophet Nathan, who pointed the finger of God’s Law at the king who had committed adultery and murder. David had sexual intercourse with a woman not his wife, and she became pregnant with his child. On top of that, he summoned her husband home from battle so that he would lie with her, so that the people would think Bathseba’s baby was sired by Uriah. When Uriah refused to do so, thus upholding the soldier’s code, David had him killed in battle, and David himself took this young, pregnant widow, whose child David fathered, to be his bride. David committed two sins, one to cover the other. God sent His prophet Nathan to bring David to repentance. Once Nathan pointed David’s sin out to him, what did David do? Did he deny that he sinned? Did he blame Bathsheba? Did he make excuses, like Adam and Eve did, like Cain did? Did he refuse to repent? No! He immediately confessed his sin; he said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam. 12:13a). At the very beginning of our text, Psalm 51, David confesses:
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight—
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge. [vv. 1-4]
Oh, that we would be as quick and as willing to confess our sins as David was! We need to be quick and willing in our confession. We need to be honest with ourselves and with God. We need to repent of our many and great sins. We need to be forgiven of our sins, lest we die in them and perish eternally. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. …If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us” (1 Jn. 1:8, 10). You see, sin is a disease of the soul; it is far worse than cancer because sin kills us spiritually. Sin sends us on a different journey, down the road to perdition, down the highway to hell, where there is eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth. That’s why we need to repent, for I am the man, you are the man, you are the woman, you are the child….
This past Sunday we heard of Jesus turning His face toward Jerusalem, where He would ultimately be condemned to die—not for His sins (for He has none), but to take away the sin of the world, including your sin and mine. That’s why Jesus went on this journey to the cross; He went there so you and I won’t have to. He went there because we can’t. He went there because there’s no way we can make payment for our sins. He went there to pay for our sins, that we would receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus won our forgiveness by bleeding and dying on the cross for us. And what is more is that we share in Jesus’ victory over sin, death, and the grave because He is risen and has rendered this unholy triad powerless over us.
Just as we are to be quick to confess, our heavenly Father, for Jesus’ sake, is quick to forgive us. Did Nathan withhold God’s forgiveness from David? Did he tell David to first say so many Hail Marys and Our Fathers and do an act of penance, and then God would forgive him? No! Nathan was just as quick to pronounce God’s absolution upon him. He said to King David, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Sam. 12:13b). This is good news for us, because “[i]f we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9). Jesus, by His death and resurrection, sets our hearts right with our Father in Heaven and sets us on our Lenten journey, a road paved with Jesus’ blood, a road that leads us to His Table, where He gives us His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and where He gives us strength for the journey through this vale of tears, that we would through our words and actions invite others on this journey, one that leads us to the Sacrament of the Altar, and, finally, to heaven. God grant this in Jesus’ Name and for His sake. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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