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What Forgiveness!

April 3, 2016

Hand

Second Sunday of Easter                                 Trinity Lutheran Church

3 April 2016                                                        Murdock, NE

 

+Jesu Juva +

 

John 20:19-23

 

There’s so much that can be preached from this text. I can’t preach it all in one sermon. So, today, just a flyby. A taste. A tidbit. A beginning. If I leave something out, please forgive me.[1] I pray that today’s sermon will bear much fruit in your baptismal living by faith in Jesus.

 

Are you ready? Good. Let’s get started.

 

You sin against someone. You insult someone with your inflammatory words. You injure someone with your clenched fists. What do you expect in return?

 

You expect retaliation. Retribution. Revenge. You anticipate a full frontal assault — a knock down drag out cage match — a verbal and/or physical bare knuckles brawl. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. This for that. You hurt me and I’ll give it right back to you in spades. You sin against me and I’ll sin right back at you! Bury you with my revenge. Drown you with my payback. No mercy! I’ll show you!

 

That’s how it works, right? Of course. It happens in our communities, our families, and yes, even in Christian congregations named Trinity Lutheran Church, Murdock, Nebraska. It happens most often with a certain someone that you love very much – a person to whom you’re very close.

 

You and the disciples do what sinners do. It’s a no brainer. The old Adam is the old Adam. You and the disciples had every opportunity to confess Jesus as Lord publicly, speak well of Him, to defend His reputation against all the devilish defamation from the bald faced liars and to unabashedly show everyone you really are one of His hangers on. You gave your fervent “Amen” to Peter’s “even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”

 

However, when push came to shove you, Peter and all the disciples decimated the Lord Jesus with repeated denials. You left Him high and dry. All of a sudden you were MIA. You didn’t want anyone to see you with THAT Jesus. “Jesus? Who? Don’t know Him! Never! Ever! Disciples of Jesus? You’re totally mistaken! You’ve got me mixed up with someone else!”  Your sin against Jesus is on steroids! Mega sin against Jesus. It gets Him brutally crucified on Friday.

 

Now it’s Sunday evening. Getting quite late. You’ve locked yourselves up in a room. Filled with fear. All of a sudden – without any warning – without even so much as a knock – shocker of shockers – GULP –THERE HE IS! The Lord Jesus! IT’S HIM! Can it be? Yes sir! The same Lord Jesus that you hurt with your wounding words and damaging deeds. He stands smack dab in the middle of this congregation chock full of sinners.

 

“Who let Him in? Peter, did you forget to lock the door? Never should have put a redneck fisherman in charge of a simple thing as that!”  Now you’re scared… (you know what I mean – have to keep the sermon rated G after all)! Your knees knock. Your throats are bone dry. Your bodies shake. Your armpits are drenched. The sweat drips off your foreheads. You have a guilty conscience that condemns you. You’re the ones throwing out the “s” word and some other juicy vulgarities.

 

Why? Well, you know how things work. It’s what you expect. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. This for that. Revenge. Retaliation. Getting what you deserve.

 

Well, the Lord Jesus does something you never saw coming. Totally blindsides you. Blows your minds. Brings joy to your hearts. Strengthens your faith all the more in Him!

 

“Peace be with you,” He declares! He forgives you! “Peace be WITH YOU.” He’s not there to fight you. He’s not there to give you what you deserve. He’s only there to absolve. To forgive you. Yes, that’s right, Jesus has forgiveness of sins on the brain. This is how the Lord Jesus deals with sinners. It’s all about forgiveness. What He says He gives. What He gives He says. “Peace be WITH YOU / I forgive YOU.”

 

The peace – the divine forgiveness comes from His Good Friday death. “He showed them His hands and side.” The Good Friday wounds show that Jesus has taken in Himself the entire weight of your sin. That FOR YOU He endured the entirety of God’s wrath against your sin. That you are now delivered from the eternal damnation of hell. That you at this moment are reconciled to God and have peace with Him! THIS IS REALLY BIG DEAL STUFF! REALLY BIG SALVATION STUFF!

 

You ARE forgiven ONLY because Jesus died for you. Jesus absolves you only because He shed His divine blood on the cross as THE sacrifice that atones for your sin. I’d better say it again because you never anticipated or expected such good news. Jesus forgives you simply because He died for you. That’s why He shows you His Good Friday scarred hands and side.

 

What joy! To be treated this way. All your sin– forgiven. Not held against you. Not counted against you. All because your sin was counted against Jesus on the cross. He who knew no sin was made to be sin! FOR YOU. All your sin and the hellacious enormity of its damnation was laid on Him.

 

Jesus wants His Good Friday forgiveness spoken and bestowed to all sinners until the end of time by His church. Forgiveness / absolution is the gospel! This is the good news! It is why the church exists. It is why the Lord through His church puts men into the office of the holy ministry. It’s all about the categorical proclamation that Jesus died FOR YOU! That your sins are totally forgiven for Jesus’ sake — that through faith in Him you have passed from eternal death to eternal life – from hell to heaven.

 

Consequently, Jesus says to the disciples: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” The disciples are now sent ones. Apostles. After all “apostle” means “sent one.” Sending them to do what? Well, I just said it. It’s apostolic ministry. But it’s better that you hear Jesus say it.

“Receive the Holy Spirit.” Must be really important if Jesus says that! If the Holy Spirit’s involved this is big time salvific stuff. “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Why? For what task? Well, Jesus says: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.”

 

There you have it! Holy Spirit-filled apostolic ministry. It’s what the church is all about. It’s what the holy ministry is all about. FORGIVENESS / ABSOLUTION. It is the life of the church. Pastors are commanded by the Lord to do this. It is why the pastor categorically speaks the absolution at the beginning of the service and why he’s always available at any time to speak forgiveness to you. When you want it the pastor is there to tell you. “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven,” Jesus promises. Absolution is Jesus’ word. So when you hear it, that is, the absolution, you’re hearing Jesus. Viva vox Christi! Living voice of Christ!

 

But let’s not forget the other words of Jesus here in the text. “If you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld.” Withhold forgiveness? Jesus allows that in the church? By pastors? Really? Yes, He does.

 

When would that ever happen? It happens when a sinner refuses to repent. It happens when a sinner justifies himself. It happens when a sinner resolutely refuses to confess that he’s a sinner, denies that he deserves God’s judgment, and even contends that God approves of and endorses his sin and sinning. Sinners do that? You bet they do. The New Testament speaks of it this way. 1 John 1:8, 10. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us … If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us.” When God says you’re a sinner but you say, “I’m not,” you’re calling God a liar and that’s a hellacious predicament.

 

However, the hardest of hardcore, unrepentant, spiritual sclerosis is this: it’s when the sinner does not want and has absolutely no need for the Good Friday forgiveness that Jesus has won for him. That’s unbelief.   Unbelief is what condemns people.

 

Faithful pastors cannot and will not speak absolution to unrepentant sinners. Instead, forgiveness is not spoken. “If you withhold forgiveness from any it is withheld,” Jesus says. When forgiveness is withdrawn because of unbelief, because someone insists on not using Jesus properly for forgiveness, then that person is still in his sins and remains under God’s wrath. Jesus says so: “whoever does not believe is condemned already,” (John 3:18). May I never have to withhold forgiveness from any of you because of impenitent unbelief. I pray that you will always live in and from your Baptism into Christ: confess your sin and receive His Good Friday forgiveness.

 

Well, this sermon has become way too long. I’d better finish with what you all learned from the Small Catechism. “What do you believe according to these words [of John 20:22-23]?” the catechism asks. The answer is this: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by his divine command, in particular, when they exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation and absolve those who repent of their sins and want to do better, this is just as valid and certain as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us himself.”

 

The absolution point is the Jesus point. Jesus dealing with you. Not to pay you back, but to forgive you.

 

What joy!

 

In the Name of Jesus.

     [1] For example I could have also included this truth like Dr. Luther in 1522 regarding today’s text: “This power is here given to all Christians (i.e. the spiritual power and rule)… when you shall speak a word concerning a sinner, it shall be spoken in heaven [as well]) and in 1540 on the same text: “This (whatsoever sins you forgive, etc.) is not said alone to ministers or servants of the church, but to every Christian. Here each may serve another in the hour of death, or wherever there is need and give him absolution…” Sermons of Martin Luther Vol. 2 Ed. John Nickolas Lenker. 1983 Grand Rapids, MI Baker, p. 362.

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