Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Absolution—simple, yet profound

Midweek in Lent4
March 9, 2016
When you ponder the Gospel, as we have during this Lent, you see more and more how simple it is. And you see more and more how profound it is. God has accomplished salvation in His Son. His suffering, death, and resurrection was what it took. We saw last week that in a simple way He delivers that salvation to us, in Baptism.

It is profound, though, that the Gospel is freely given. That Christ has done it all means that we have done none of it. We are saved because of what He has done. The Baptism we have received was all His work, even as His suffering, dying, and rising was all His work.

Baptism alone would be enough for us. When you are Baptized you are saved. Really, you have it all in Baptism. And yet, God is not content in giving us just what we need. He wants to bless us abundantly. He wants to forgive us again and again, since as the Baptized children of God we often do not live like it.

There is a very simple thing children must learn and it seems anything but simple. At the moment it seems like the hardest thing in the world. When a child has done something wrong and the parent teaches that child to say I’m sorry, the child might sooner want to eat broccoli. But once they learn this they come to find out that it is necessary. If you never learn to be sorry you will never learn what it means to be forgiven. You may feel good at the moment that you’ve gotten away with something, but your conscience will hold on to what you have done and there won’t be release from it.

So, in one sense, confession of sins is simple. We acknowledge our sin. We confess it, recognizing that we are sorry that we have sinned. But confession of sins is also profound in that being sorry isn’t enough. Another thing a child ought to learn is that being sorry for doing something wrong also means making an effort to not do it again. Confessing our sin means being sorry for it as well as repenting of it.

Repentance goes beyond simply being sorry for sin to turning from that sin. Repentance means you seek to amend what you have done wrong. You can be sorry all you want and still not be willing to change your ways. That’s not repentance.

So confession of sins is simple and profound. Fortunately, by God’s grace we not only are called to account of our sin but also are given a new heart and mind to see that we need to repent. Simply put, that we are able to repent is by the pure grace of God. Our sinful nature certainly doesn’t want to turn away from sin. That is why we sin in the first place. But in His grace God shows us that turning away from sin leads to something greater than the sin we thought so enticing.

And that is the main thing in the confession of sins. It is Absolution. Absolution is the absolving of sins. It is forgiveness. It is not holding sin against us. When we confess our sins God wants nothing more than to forgive us of our sins. If you confessed your sins but weren’t forgiven, you would be no better off than if you hadn’t confessed your sins. God brings us to repentance so that we may be forgiven.

Absolution is simple. It is God’s pronouncement to us that He forgives us. He does not hold our sin and guilt against us. When He forgives us He sees us as ones who have not sinned but as ones who are holy because of His holy Son, who is our Savior. Absolution assures you that what you know of your Baptism is true. You are a child of God because He raised you to new life in Baptism and will sustain you in that new life in absolving you of your sins.

Even as it is simple, Absolution is profound. In the same way that God brought you into His eternal Kingdom through water that was connected with His Word, so He wipes away your sins through the action of His called and ordained servant absolving you of your sins. The word of your Lord is spoken by His servant and you hear it. What you are hearing is your Lord speaking forgiveness to you. This is what Jesus instructed His apostles to do in John 20, after His resurrection: whoever’s sins you forgive, they are forgiven; whoever’s sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven.

Those who confess and repent are forgiven. Those who do not are not. It’s not that God does not want to forgive some people. It’s that if they refuse the forgiveness they are left in their sins. God will not force His forgiveness on those who want to live in unrepentance. Jesus died for everyone, paid for all of their sins, but there are many people who simply don’t want that forgiveness.

For those who do, who see that their sin and guilt will finally overcome them; who see that without the forgiveness of God they will never rid themselves of their sin and guilt; who see that with God there is abundant mercy, He gives exactly that. He separates our sins from us as far as the east is from the west. This is the prayer of the Psalmist and it is our prayer as well.

The profound nature of Absolution is seen in the living out of our daily Christian lives. Absolution is not just a moment when the forgiveness of sins is declared to us. It is the natural living out of Baptism. In Baptism you were forgiven of all of your sins. You were Baptized once but you still live in this fallen world. Your sinful flesh still wraps itself around you. You still sin. That’s why it’s imperative that you never forget your Baptism. Live in your Baptism. Daily die and rise to new life.

When you are Absolved you are being raised to new life. Your confessing of your sin plunges you into death and God reaches down and lifts you out of that death by absolving you, forgiving your sin.

Just as Baptism was an external act, something done to you from outside of yourself, so is Absolution. In Baptism the pastor spoke the Word of God and applied the water to you. In Absolution the pastor speaks the Word of God to you as well, applying it to you. When you confess your sins to the pastor you are confessing them to God. The spoken word of Absolution comes from outside of you and is spoken to directly to you. You are forgiven. God has forgiven you as the words declare it.

This is certain. Each Christian can and should forgive those who sin against them. If someone has sinned against you and seeks your forgiveness, you are obligated to forgive them. How could you withhold forgiveness from them when our Lord Himself died for all of their sins? So each Christian has the power and obligation to forgive those who have sinned against them.

And we ought to seek forgiveness from those we sin against. We should not just pray and ask God to forgive us. We should confess our sin to the person we have harmed and ask their forgiveness. When others forgive us they are not holding that sin against us.

But we sin much more than only our sins against others. We sin in many ways and God wants us to know that He forgives us of those sins. This is why God has given His ordained servants the call to forgive the sins of His people. When you are burdened by your sins you are encouraged to confess them to the one who in the stead and by the command of his Lord Jesus Christ pronounces Absolution to you. We don’t always know if others truly forgive us, but we know that God’s Word is certain. When He says He forgives you, you are forgiven. Amen.


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